Challenging the world in the Maccabiah Games
Peyton Greenberg brings home the gold in 200M breaststroke
[by Shiela Steinman Wallace, Editor]
When the 2013 Maccabiah Games opened in Netanya, Israel, this summer, 11,000 of the world’s top Jewish athletes from 100 countries filed the arena for the opening ceremonies, prepared to compete in more than 70 different sports.
Louisville’s Peyton Greenberg was a member of the 1,000-person United States delegation to the games and was one of 500 swimmers to compete in the games. In the 200-meter breaststroke, she brought home the gold – besting 50 competitors. She also won silver medals in the 100-meter breaststroke and a relay.
This outstanding performance in these highly competitive games brings Greenberg one step closer to achieving her dream of competing in the Olympics. “It’s a great thing to have for your resume,” she said, “because it’s an international competition and not a lot of kids my age are able to do that.”
“It was cool to represent the United States of America,” Greenberg observed. “It was a big honor.”
It was also exciting. “The opening ceremony was just like the Olympic opening ceremony,” she said. “Every athlete from around the world paraded around the stadium and there were thousands of people in the stands. There were shows and fireworks and the torch was lit.
“The megatron was showed the whole U.S.A. team,” she continued, “and we took up the whole stadium walking around it. I felt like I was in the real Olympics when it started.”
Greenberg was the favorite in the race she won, but when she got in the pool, she had doubts. There were a lot of good swimmers both among her teammates and those from other countries. “I just thought I should just race and not think about it and give it all I have,” she said. “Then, after I was done with the race, I just looked up and saw that I won and the whole crowd was cheering. I could hear the United States team cheering and screaming.”
“One of the coolest experiences was when I was on the podium,” she added. “I saw my parents crying and I had the biggest smile on my face.”
She also enjoyed the closing ceremonies, which Greenberg described as a rave. “That was so cool,” she said. “I was jumping up and down and the lights were flashing.”
As in the Maccabi games stateside, the Maccabiah Games are much more than the competition. They are about meeting and getting to know other athletes, trading memorabilia and learning about Israel.
“I got to meet people from around the world through the games,” Greenberg said, “and competing against people from around the world was a whole new experience. They talk differently and they prepare differently. The Australians even swam opposite – we swim clockwise but they swim counterclockwise.”
When it came trading for memorabilia, Greenberg said, “I got a British hat, an Australian shirt, an Israeli shirt, a French shirt, Brazilian shirt and an Israeli swim cap. … I was not so good at trading, but I’m happy with what I got.”
She also made a lot of new friends. “That was the best part about my trip,” she said. “We’re texting every day, and they love to talk.” Most of her new friends were teammates who live “all over the country – California, New York, Chicago, Atlanta and Florida.” She has a friend in St. Thomas, too.
The games lasted only one week, but Greenberg’s Israel experience lasted for three. “I loved it, and I want to go back,” she said. “It was the greatest summer ever. I loved the people, the things I did and the competition. It was fun.”
“My top two favorite places,” she continued, “were the beach at Tel Aviv and The Western Wall.” In Tel Aviv, she enjoyed the dancing and meeting the Israelis. She described the visiting The Wall as breathtaking and emotional.
“I had to learn how to barter in the markets,” she noted. “That was hard. I bartered for clothes and food.”
Since she is an accomplished swimmer and was traveling with others with similar skills, Greenberg said that when they were in the Dead Sea, they tried to race to the Jordan River. “We didn’t get that far, but was so much fun because when you try to go all the way under the water, the sea won’t let you. You just bob right back up.”
A lot of people made contributions that helped Greenberg realize this part of her dream, and she is grateful for the support. She also received help from The Temple and a scholarship from the Jewish Foundation of Louisville funded by a grant from the Jewish Heritage Fund for Excellence.