BY KATIE FIELD
For the Daily
Published October 12, 2005
Ever wonder what it would feel like to win a gold medal for your country?
After this summer, three Wolverines no longer have to.
In July, Michigan tennis juniors Ryan Heller and Steve Peretz and freshman Andrew Mazlin traveled to Jerusalem to compete in the 17th Maccabiah International Jewish Olympics, which are held every four years. Despite tough competition - the Maccabiah Games attract the best Jewish athletes from around the world - all three earned the coveted top spots, and all the glory that goes with it.
Victory sure is sweet and a gold medal even more so. But it was being in Israel that made the experience one that the teammates will never forget. For Heller, seeing the Western Wall and the Dead Sea were definitive highlights of the trip. Mazlin, who traveled to Israel once when he was younger, found that being there for the second time allowed him to enjoy the experience more and better understand what he saw. It also made him more appreciative of being able to participate in the games.
"I saw a lot of things I had never seen before and, to compete for your country in the games - that was really a cool thing for me," said Mazlin, who won both the singles and doubles titles in the junior division.
The Maccabiah Games also gave Heller, Peretz and Mazlin the opportunity to get to know other Jewish athletes from around the world.
"It was great meeting other guys from other countries and playing matches against them," Heller said. "It was a good experience. It was a great place to be."
Having family with him in Israel made the Maccabiah Games much more significant for Peretz, whose win with doubles partner Heller is something he will always remember.
"It was an amazing experience for all of us I'm sure," Peretz said. "Ryan and I took gold in doubles, which was a special moment for us. My dad came running down onto the court and said 'Now I can die a happy man.' It meant a lot to him and me and the family."
Peretz gained valuable experience that he feels will be useful in future tennis matches at Michigan. Competing at such a high level and knowing how much he wanted to win gave Peretz the extra drive he needed to regain the lead when he was behind during a match.
"Now I think I'll be able to apply coming back in a lot of matches because I really wanted to win more than my opponent," Peretz said. "I learned how to come back from behind."
There were some big moments at the Maccabiah Games. Some were on tennis courts, others beside the Dead Sea. They were between fathers and sons and teammates. Wherever they occurred, it is certain the 7,700 athletes who took part are still feeling the impact.
The closing ceremony ended the Maccabiah Games with unity and hopefulness.
"It was a joyous moment for us," said Peretz. "It was also a celebration for us being in Israel. Everybody there was grateful that we came, and we were really happy to be there."