When a new sidewalk was paved in Konstantin Afinogenov’s neighborhood in St. Petersburg, Russia, its elevated height made it impossible for him to use. But instead of complaining to authorities, Afinogenov took matters into his own hands. Literally.
He took a crowbar to the sidewalk and one by one, removed each brick. When police confronted him, Afinogenov remained defiant.
“If I can’t use the sidewalk, neither can people with strollers or the elderly. Sidewalks should be used for all,” he told The Jerusalem Post last week.
Within a week, a new sidewalk with ramps were installed.
That act of activism in many ways embodies the spirit of the Macabiah, in which he participated this year: no athlete should be left behind and everyone should be given the same opportunities. However, Afinogenov, who has been in a wheelchair for the past 14 years due to a devastating spinal cord injury is not in Israel to talk about his disability. He came to win.
And win he did, snagging a gold medal in singles and a silver for doubles in wheelchair tennis.
The decorated para-athlete who also has experience in badminton and dance won those medals at this year’s Maccabiah as a representative of the Russian delegation.
As a decorated para-athlete with experience in tennis, badminton and dance Afinogenov visited the Jewish state to perform in the Maccabiah in the former category as a representative of the Russian delegation.
The arrival of the 15 member- Russian Jewish Paralympic team to Maccabiah Games in Israel was made possible by the donation of businessman and philanthropist Roman Abramovitch, who has partnered with the “Breaking Barriers” initiative, launched by the 2016 Genesis Prize Laureate Itzhak Perlman.
Perlman, who has been a constant advocate for inclusion of people with disabilities in all spheres of society, has directed his Prize funds to projects that promote this goal in the Jewish world and in Israel.
“Paralympic Games is a great example not only of the power of human spirit, but also if the importance of inclusion of people with disabilities in all aspects of creative and social life. This is the message of Itzhak Perlman, which the Genesis Prize founders and our partner in this initiative, Roman Abramovich, are proud to support,” Chairman and Co-Founder of the Genesis Prize Foundation Stan Polovets told the Post.
This is his third visit to Israel and Afinogenov is starting to feel at home. He found out he was Jewish four years ago, after his brother did some digging in his family background. While Afinogenov remains secular, being surrounded by fellow Jews during the games has helped him establish a connection to his roots.
“I feel like I’m part of this community,” he said.
Between games and training, Afinogenov has enjoyed touring Tel Aviv and taking dips in the Mediterranean, but he’s not quite ready to make the aliya leap just yet.
“It’s too hot for me here,” he jokes, adding on a more serious note that he wants to spend a few more years competing in Russia before making any big life plans.