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Israel’s Olympic Spirit: IDF Marathon Puts Soldiers to the Challenge

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The 2014 Olympic Games kicked off in Sochi last week, uniting people around the world through their love of sports. This year’s games were an inspiration for soldiers in the IDF Nahal Brigade, who recently competed in a marathon on their training base in Israel.

Two weeks ago, the IDF’s Nahal Brigade held a marathon for soldiers on the brigade’s training base in Israel. Hundreds of soldiers – including combat soldiers, shooting instructors and medics – participated in the event.

Nahal soldiers run during this month's marathon on their training base

Nahal soldiers run during this month’s marathon on their training base

Although sports in the IDF are often associated with discipline, the recent marathon took on a relaxed atmosphere. Nahal commanders emphasized that the event’s goal was for soldiers to have fun together. “It’s a great idea to associate competition with fun,” said Captain Emmanuel Attali, a medic at the Nahal Brigade’s training base.

“We’re going to give it our all. It’s a great concept and the atmosphere here is wonderful,” said one of the soldiers who participated. “This event allows us to interact with everyone, combat and non-combat. You can see that the organizers were really invested in this event.”

The day’s program included an untimed 5K run, as well as timed 5K and 10K races. Moments before the marathon began, the Nahal soldiers gathered together in a large huddle. The runners put their arms around each other and belted out a loud cheer in unison. Anticipation and excitiment filled the air as they took their marks on the starting line.

A commander awards a certificate to one of the race's winners

A Nahal soldier proudly accepts a certificate after winning a competition

The IDF marathon – the first event of its kind on the Nahal training base – strengthened the bonds between the soldiers who participated. “Today, all participants wore the same green shirt designed especially for the event,” said Avichay, one soldier who took part in the marathon. “It may not seem important, but there’s a reason why hundreds of soldiers wore the same green-colored shirt. It shows that we’re all united. We’re all together and we’re stronger that way.”

“By organizing this event, we wanted the soldiers to understand that sport is not a punishment, or just a part of military training. It is also a pleasure, a culture. The marathon also restores the prestige of the Nahal Brigade, and this is what makes our fighters the best at their mission,” says Major Akiva Grossman, the officer in charge of sport in the IDF Central Command.

IDF Nahal soldiers after the marathon

For Maj. Grossman, one thing is clear: “We tend to think the soldier’s gun is his weapon. In reality, his true weapon is his body – that is what makes all the difference. If a soldier finds himself facing a terrorist, it is essential to know how to breathe and be in control of his body.”

For the brigade commander, Colonel Roy Shitrit, “sport is part of our culture here in the Nahal Brigade. This event is a mixture of pride and competition. Everything has been designed beautifully to make this day an unforgettable event that will have an impact in the long term for the entire brigade.”

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