In what is understood to be a first for Australian athletics at a Maccabiah Games, a para athlete will proudly represent the Green and Gold in the open men’s half-marathon race at the Games in Israel this July, and in doing so will no doubt inspire the entire Aussie delegation.
Melburnian Alex O’Callaghan – a 32-year-old who has autism, an intellectual impairment and a passion and talent for long-distance running – is currently training for this event three times a week.
In at least one weekly session he is joined by his first cousin, Jason Kozika, who will be his running guide in the Macccabiah race itself.
Kozika is a 34-year-old psychologist with experience in the disability sector, and also a nationally- ranked race walking athlete, but has also competed in several triathlons and half-marathons.
He told The AJN, “As first cousins, me and Alex have always been close. Probably about 10 years ago, I noticed that Alex was pretty good at running, so we put him in a local running club, and he has done well in the Gold Coast half-marathon.”
As O’Callaghan’s guide, Kozika will help him by providing prompts when needed, assist with running at the most suitable pace, and make sure he does not feel confused when running in a large group. “Competing at Maccabiah will be an opportunity for Alex to demonstrate his ability and get recognition for his achievements, and also to meet other Jewish people from around the world, enjoy travel and social opportunities and connections,” said Kozika.
He added that a lot of work has been put into Alex’s development over many years to prepare him for a wonderful opportunity like this. “So it’s a very nice thing for us too, his family, for it all to come to fruition,” said Kozika.
“Alex is also a very talented painter, he works part-time at Richmond Football Club, and everyone that meets him really connects with him.
“He is very excited about competing in Israel.”
O’Callaghan said he is looking forward to racing in the Israeli heat, representing Australia, meeting other Jewish athletes and getting stuck into Israeli cuisine, “especially falafel!”
The Maccabiah Games will be held in Israel from July 12-26.