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By Rhonda J. Prepes, P. Eng

Winnipeg’s David Greaves, one of the founding members of the first ever Israeli bobsled team, has been invited by the Vancouver chapter of Magen David Adom Canada to be a keynote speaker at a pre 2010 Winter Olympic event.

The event, which will take place on February 11, the evening before opening ceremonies, will be attended by the current Israeli Olympic team, Olympic officials, dignitaries, community leaders, and members of  Vancouver’s Jewish community – all wanting to hear about the bobsled team’s inspirational journey.

As Greaves, 42, told the Winnipeg Jewish Review, he and his pioneering teammates  had “a dream to represent Israel in a positive light and to promote the sport of bobsledding in Israel.”

In 2002, Greaves joined San Francisco residents Aaron Zeff and John Frank and Aussie coach Ross Dominikovich to form a team to represent Israel on bobsled tracks around the world.  

It was in Calgary in 2002 that Greaves prepared for his first competitive run down the bobsled track, with “tears in my eyes.”  His teammate Frank turned to him and said the Shema Israel Hebrew prayer just before they pushed off.   

Although they did not qualify for the Winter Olympics in 2006, the team did compete in two World Championships and accomplished more than anyone ever thought they could.

As Greaves said, “If we had only focused on our goal of competing in the 2006 Winter Olympics, we would have missed out on the meaningful journey along the way. Although we were not successful in our Olympic quest, we did succeed in overcoming many obstacles. We were triumphant in promoting the sport of bobsledding and displaying our strong devotion for Israel.”

In their first season (2003-04), Israel ranked fifth among 15 teams competing in the America’s Cup series, a notch below the World Cup. In their second season (2004-05), the team ranked 11 out of 22 sleds in the series, despite having to forfeit one-third of the races.

As Greaves recalls, the team he co-founded had no previous experience. They learnt the sport of bobsledding through hands-on trial and error. They survived numerous crashes and injuries. They overcame personal doubts. They made aliyah to become Israeli citizens. They travelled to a variety of destinations to practice, since Israel had no bobsled track. They hired a coach, bought equipment, and rallied the support of the Israeli Olympic Committee. They did not ask for funding from the Israeli government, the Israel Olympic Committee, or the Elite Sports Federation. They used their own money, fundraised and found sponsors.

“We connected with Jews in every community that we travelled to. We became more than a team of athletes – we became ambassadors for Israel. We received a lot of publicity in Canada, the States, Europe and Israel. We built up a solid following of fans and were able to share our passion for Israel and Judaism. Surprisingly, we received a cheering reception wherever we went, even in Germany,” Greaves remembers.

Greaves told the Winnipeg Jewish Review about how the team participated in the 2004 World Championship races in Konigssee, Germany with a heightened sense of accomplishment and pride.

“To think that 65 years ago there were no Jews left in Germany, there was no State of Israel and no Israeli Olympic team and then in 2004, three Jews on the Israeli bobsled team competed in Germany within view of Eagle’s Nest, Hitler’s secret retreat. All our hard work was worth it just to see the Israeli flag fly over German soil,” Greaves said.

Greaves is currently the Secretary General of the Israeli Bobsled Federation  representing athletes in bobsledding and skeleton racing.  Following his bobsledding success, he managed to parlay his passion for Israel and support of Zionism into a position with the Jewish Federation of Winnipeg. He has been Associate CJA Campaign Director for 5 years and is still living his dream.  

 Rhonda Prepes is an engineer, educator, mother, and writer in Winnipeg.

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