By Rochelle Maruch Miller
On the morning after his wedding in 2009, IDF soldier Aaron Karov, 26, received a call from his commander requesting that he lead his battalion into Gaza for Operation Cast Lead. Despite suffering major injuries, with determination, resilience, and faith in Hashem, Aaron has persevered against all odds. Following months of rigorous training, he ran in the NYC Marathon this year to return to his pre-injury self, to inspire others on the road to recovery, and to give back to OneFamily (www.onefamilytogether.org), the organization that helped him through his recovery. We are pleased to present our exclusive interview with this young hero.
RMM: Aaron, please tell us about yourself.
AK: I am from Karnei Shomron. I went to yeshiva in Netzarim, and just began my second year at Ariel University. My wife, Tzvia, and I have two children: three-and-a-half-year-old Hodaya and two-and-a-half-year-old Ami-Tzur. I do a lot of motivational speaking. I want to encourage high school students to join the army and serve their country.
RMM: How were you wounded?
AK: I was wounded while leading my troops in Operation Cast Lead in 2009. I was in the paratroopers brigade, and we were preparing for a ground offensive in Gaza. Tzvia and I were planning our wedding that same week, but I didn’t want to leave my soldiers alone after we’d trained together for so long. So, we got married as planned, but I left the next morning for the battlefield. Our group was ordered to overtake a house that was booby trapped. My soldiers escaped unharmed, but the building collapsed on me. I don’t remember much after that. My full memories are from a full month later, when my real recovery began. People tell me that it didn’t seem as though the doctors could do much for me, but I persevered. I survived.
RMM: What were some of the greatest challenges you have faced?
AK: Rehabilitation and returning to normal life has been difficult. It’s strange when everyone knows your name. I was in the news constantly for several months while I was undergoing surgery. I had to relearn how to do so many ordinary things. I still have shrapnel in my body, and I can’t move as well as I would like to. But I am happy to be alive. It’s a miracle that I am still here.
RMM: What were your thoughts following the Boston Marathon bombing?
AK: Every act of terror is terrible, and every new instance reminds me of my own ordeal. It’s horrible to think of all the lives that are lost and all of the lives that will never be the same again. The key is to never let it change you. The “Boston Strong” campaign immediately following the bombing was on target. If we allow ourselves to live in fear, terror wins. We can never allow that to happen.
RMM: What inspired you to compete in the NYC Marathon?
AK: I have developed a very strong relationship with Dr. Steve Jackson, the surgeon who operated on me. He saved my life. His wife, Yitzchaka, is an avid runner and had been encouraging me to join a group of IDF veterans who ran together. She explained that it would empower me, it would help me heal. After pushing it off for a while, I finally joined the group, and I really enjoyed it. When Yitzchaka casually mentioned that she would be running in the NYC Marathon, I thought she was crazy. But somehow, she convinced me to run with her to support OneFamily. I really like the sport and the energy, but mostly I like running because it proves that I am strong enough to keep moving forward. Two years ago, I started feeling like a normal person. Now, I am doing something beyond the abilities of the average person. I really want to show people that, with G-d’s help and a great attitude, you can do just about anything. When we decided to raise money for OneFamily’s center in Ra’anana, which has been so good to me and my family, my motivation went through the roof. If I can inspire others who were injured, and put them on the path to recovery, then my run will have been a stunning success.
RMM: How intense was your training process?
AK: Four times a week, I wake up at 4:00 a.m. and just start running, sometimes for hours. I run on hard paths, and train on different kinds of terrain. I have been training with different people, like runners without borders. It’s not easy, but I really want to succeed. So many people come out to run with us, no matter what time it is, so that really encourages me. And the feeling of accomplishment and satisfaction after a run is amazing.
It has been very difficult, but I have really improved. I wasn’t sure that I would be able to do it in the beginning. When I started, I had these terrible headaches and knee pains, and I wasn’t sure if I could or should continue. But my OneFamily support system helped me through it. I also started a new diet with help from Teva Kastel and a dietician. Soon thereafter, the doctors gave me the green light to train for the Marathon.
RMM: What words of inspiration do you have for victims of terror?
AK: When you are knocked down, it feels as though you will never get back up. But we must fight to climb back on top. And when we reach the top, we must keep climbing to show those who knocked us down that they didn’t succeed in defeating us. Instead, they inspired us to achieve more, do better, reach higher.
RMM: How has running impacted your life?
AK: Over the last four months I have lost a lot of weight, around 20 kilos. Before I started running, I was trying to get healthier, but hadn’t been able to figure out how. Running turned things around for me. I love the satisfaction I get after a really good run. At one point, I was told that I would never be able to walk again. Running makes me feel like I can do anything.
RMM: How has OneFamily made a difference to you?
AK: OneFamily has been a strong and loving support system from day one. They didn’t just help me, but my whole family. Naava Formonsky, OneFamily’s regional director for central Israel, would sit with my grandmother at my bedside; they became really good friends. Every day that I was in the hospital, there was a volunteer from OneFamily there to help or bring food to my family. My mother joined a special group arranged by OneFamily for mothers of soldiers who served in Cast Lead. She received a lot of love and support there. Tzvia and I both go to therapy that they offer at the center to help us rebuild our lives.
I received a lot of help and attention in the beginning, but as time passes, people move on, and get back into a routine. The exception is OneFamily. They are still here for me five years after my injury. That gives me a lot of strength. It’s important to know that they are part of my family, because time will pass and our lives will go on, but the injury will never fully heal. I am really grateful for all of their support.
RMM: Aaron, what message would you like to convey to our readers?
AK: Keep moving forward, no matter what. Even when things look bad, just keep moving forward–step by step. Surround yourself with people who love you, and accept the support you are given. When you believe in yourself, the sky is the limit. v