Nir Abelson is not your typical Israeli (almost) teenager. The 12-year-old Abelson has been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder and was bullied by classmates because of it. But rather than letting these things define him or become a roadblock, Abelson has turned them—in true judo fashion—into gold. Last week, Abelson won a gold medal for Israel in judo at the Special Olympics.
Abelson revealed only a few weeks ago how he had found his passion for judo. He said that some of his classmates used to bully him, and he wanted to fight back. He discovered judo—a martial art known for “maximum efficiency”—learning how to use the least amount of physical strength necessary to throw an opponent. Judo isn’t about strength so much as it is about timing and technique.
“I wanted to defend myself. It started as half hobby, half self-defense against kids that would vex me. I started to love it and train, and it turned from a hobby to a way of life,” he said.
“I’m proud to represent the country and bring such great victories,” Abelson said. “I thank everyone who has been with me along the way that have helped me turn what was for me a dream – into reality.”
Abelson is from Beersheva, a city in southern Israel on the edge of the Negev desert. The Special Olympics is an international competition that hosted 400 athletes from 11 countries this year.
In the Olympics and in the Special Olympics, Israel has become quite a force to be reckoned with in judo in recent years. Among Abelson’s four teammates at the competition, they all brought home either gold or bronze. And in the Olympics, almost half—six out of the 13—of Israel’s overall medal count are in judo, with the most recent addition being a bronze that was added in the 2021 games in Tokyo.
PHOTO CREDIT: Yair Abelson Photography from Facebook page