Operating for over 30 years, the Israel Tennis Centers’ Special Tennis Program has truly made a huge impact on the lives of hundreds of developmentally and physically challenged children. It has dramatically changed the life of 23 year old Elad Gevandschnaider, who was born with Down syndrome and has been practicing at the ITC – Beer Sheva for the last six years. In March, Elad will travel to Florida to participate in exhibition matches in order to raise funds for the ITC – it will be the first time that a player with special needs will travel to represent the Center in such an event and the ITC will be so proud to introduce him to our friends in Florida.
Elad was born with Down syndrome but he is now a tennis champion
Elad’s disability disqualifies him from serving in the Army. Yet after completing two years of national service in a primary school in Beer Sheva, Elad currently volunteers in the Israeli Army, serving in an IDF equipment base for five full weekdays, for the next two years. Elad is also currently undergoing medical tests so that he will be able to enlist in the Army as a volunteer soldier, as he dreams of being able to wear a uniform like his four siblings and his parents did before him.
Elad’s father, Yossi, reflects on how much Elad has changed thanks to the ITC: “My son has become much more independent and I was so surprised when he started taking the bus by himself. Every morning, he travels to the Army base by himself. From there he takes two busses to the hostel in which he lives and from home he takes another bus to the Tennis Center”.
“The ITC has changed Elad’s life in every way imaginable. Those who do not know him might not understand, but as his father let me tell you what a difference it has made. Tennis has given him confidence; he has become more disciplined even arriving at the Center one hour before the start of his practice. Elad used to be a little chubby, but now thanks to the amazing staff at the ITC, he has been able to lose weight and to learn to eat the right things. Tennis also allows him to keep in shape and look after his body”.
Yossi Gevandschnaider continues: “Before he started playing tennis, Elad was very shy and closed off. He studied in a special needs school, came home and would always play on the computer or watch television by himself. Since he joined the ITC, my son has become much more sociable. He was offered the possibility of working within a disabled workplace, but he declined because he preferred to be around people without disabilities”.
Elad with his parents, Yossi and Mary Gevandschnaider
Elad truly loves tennis. He is glued to his television every time a live tennis match is airing, especially enjoying watching the Israeli players compete. All the children at the ITC love spending time with Elad; they enjoy playing tennis with him, talking with him and doing all the normal things young people do together – Elad has even begun flirting with all the girls at the Center in Beer Sheva. The Israel Tennis Centers has truly changed this young man’s life for the better, allowing him to achieve goals he never thought he could.
The past year and a half has seen Elad make great progress with his tennis. He recorded great wins at both the National Special Olympics Tournament and at the European Championships held in Warsaw, Poland in February 2010, where he won the silver medal. In June 2011, Elad continued his international success – this time at the World Games for Special Olympics in Athens, Greece. Elad won the silver medal in singles and in true co-existence spirit, captured the bronze doubles medal with Muhammad Kunbar, an Arab player from the ITC – Jerusalem.
When the Special Olympics delegation returned to Israel, the athletes attended receptions hosted by Israel’s Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu and President Shimon Peres. The reception’s most emotional moment arrived when Elad, who sang the “Hatikva” in a television commercial prior to his departure to Greece, was asked by President Peres himself to sing it once again. Elad stood up and sang the Israeli Anthem in its entirety in front of the whole crowd.
Elad showing off his medals
We are so proud of Elad’s achievements both in tennis and in his life. We look forward to you being able to meet this extraordinary young man when he arrives in Florida in March 2012.
About The Israel Tennis Centers Foundation (“ITC”):
The ITC is a non-profit organization (formerly known as The Israel Children’s Centers is a 501 (c)) that works to enhance the social, psychological and physical development of Israeli children through the medium of sport. We provide a healthy and structured environment for children from all walks of life, teaching values of cooperation, persistence and tolerance. Thirty-five years after the inauguration of the first Israel Tennis Center in Ramat Hasharon, the ITC has expanded throughout Israel and has nurtured and empowered more children and adults than the original founders could have ever dreamed. Currently one of the largest social-service agencies for children in Israel, the ITC operates 14 Centers throughout Israel’s periphery within socio-economically disadvantaged neighborhoods. The Centers are complete with cutting edge facilities and tennis courts that serve over 20,000 children. For additional background please visit: https://www.israeltenniscenters.org