Israeli Gardener Wins Gold at Special Olympics in Berlin


More than 7,000 athletes from 126 countries competed in the 2023 Special Olympics World Summer Games in Berlin, Germany, but Israeli athlete Mir Segel made himself known by bringing home a gold medal in the 100-meter freestyle swimming competition. An avid swimmer and hardworking gardener with Autism spectrum disorder (ASD), Segel found empowerment and the courage to compete in the Special Olympics through his work at ADI, Israel’s network of specialized rehabilitative care for those touched by and living with disability.

A native of Kibbutz Nir Yitzhak in the northwestern Negev, 28 year-old Segel is the conscientious caretaker of ADI Negev-Nahalat Eran’s Therapeutic Horse Stable, as well as one of the longest tenured members of the rehabilitation village’s ‘Gardeners Without Borders Program,’ a project powered by JNF-USA that provides real and equal employment opportunities for individuals with disabilities within a supportive social framework.

As part of the ADI family, Segel received the opportunities and support he needed to hone his social and emotional skills and get ready to compete in the world’s largest inclusive sports event. But nothing could have prepared him for how it would feel to stand on the top step of the awards podium and receive a gold medal as ‘Hatikvah’ played in the background.

“I overcame obstacles and people viewing me as different,” said Segel after his big win. “I was successful. I was able to conquer my fears, reach my goal, and also bring honor and pride to Israel. And it was fun!”

Though he was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome at the age of three, Segel skipped several grades thanks to his advanced math skills and above-average problem-solving abilities. Upon graduating from high school, he joined ADI Negev-Nahalat Eran as a National Service volunteer and enjoyed the experience so much that he decided to become a full-fledged staff member.

“From his very first day at the village, it was clear that Mir was a winner. He is kind, compassionate and diligent, and he always wants to achieve more and help others reach their goals. He is the very definition of a team player,” said Avi Wortzman, Director of ADI Negev-Nahalat Eran.

“We are so proud of Mir, and it is very exciting to see him return from Berlin victorious. But none of us are surprised, because Mir has been breaking barriers and exceeding expectations his whole life. He has always been a champion. This gold medal is just reaffirming what we already knew.”

Wortzman added that the Special Olympics, which support people with intellectual disabilities through health, education and skills development programs, is a natural partner for ADI.

“Mir’s stunning performance spotlights the importance of our shared mission to focus on each person’s abilities, what they can do and how they can excel when provided with the correct tools and opportunities. We look forward to sending Mir and other ADI athletes to the 2025 Special Olympics World Summer Games in Italy.”

ADI provides its residents and special education students with the individualized growth plans and specialized services they need to grow and thrive, its rehabilitation patients with the treatments and therapies they need to heal and return to their lives, and the community at large with tangible opportunities for encountering disability, raising awareness and promoting acceptance.

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