Dreams Do Come True

With the highs and lows of the London Olympics behind him, one Canadian athlete now has his sights set on his next quadrennial games, the 19th Maccabiah in Israel.

Josh Binstock, part of Canada’s two-manteam which hit the beach court in the shadow of Buckingham Palace a few short months ago, will trade bare feet for rubber soles as he helps lead the Maccabi Canada Men’s Open Team in their quest for a second indoor volleyball medal.

While a medal wasn’t in the cards for 2012 at the Horse Guard’s Parade site, Binstock’sOlympic appearance, highlighted by a first round win over host Great Britain, was something he will always remember. And as an athlete and an intense competitor, he said he will continue to harness that energy and Olympic experience for his appearance at the 2013 Maccabiah Games – July 18-30, 2013 – and beyond.

Binstock said there was no single word to describe the overall Olympic feeling, just a series of superlatives – including ‘magnificent’ , ‘overwhelming’, ‘nervousness’, ‘excitement’ and ‘joy’.

“It’s something you dream about as an athlete your whole life,” said the 31-year-old Richmond Hill, Ontario native. “You’ve got to go to understand, whether as an athlete, an organizer or a spectator.”
“When you walk into the opening ceremonies the dream becomes a reality. You’re sharing it with your family and you know the whole world is watching.”

He said the Olympic environment and the energy generated at the Game sites take an athlete’s performance to a higher footing, making victory sweeter and defeat tempered with the knowledge that just making it to Games was a feat in itself.  Binstock is hoping to share his real-life experience, both at the Olympics and a previous Maccabiah (2005) with his new Maccabi Canada teammates as they prepare to take on the world.

Perhaps, says Maccabi Canada Men’s Open volleyball team head coach Brenda Willis, some of it will encourage and help shape a cohesive, well-balanced team. Willis has known Binstock for more than 15 years and feels he will contribute both physically and psychologically to the team’s success. “He has always been, not just a gifted athlete, but a fierce competitor,” says Willis, head coach of the Queen’s University men’s team who tried to recruit Binstock out of high school. “When he chose to go to school in Toronto, he became my opponent, and a guy who had a huge impact on his team – as he could control the net better than most players in our league.”

“When he moved to the beach game he continued to carry that intensity and fighting spirit with him, and he just kept getting better. Despite several challenges, he persevered and achieved his life-long goal of becoming an Olympian. I am sure his drive, his tenacity, his exceptional abilities, and his experience on the biggest sporting stage the world offers, will all be major assets to our team next summer.”

Having competed for his country in two of the largest gathering of athletes in the world Binstock knows that along with the expectations of a country, competing at the Maccabiah games provides a unique set of opportunities and challenges. “There’s not that much of a difference from the Olympics (and the Maccabiah),” said Binstock. “The size is the same. Playing there (in 2005) prepared me for London. At that time it was the biggest Games I had ever been in.”

“It’s easy to become distracted,” he continued as he reflected on his past experience and pondered the future. “There’s lots of pressure.”

“I know my role as the older guy. I’m not going to try to be the superstar. We need to have everybody on board. We need to develop team chemistry. It’s important to support the young players. They need to be reminded that it’s (the Maccabiah) not only about physical play, but as a Games (experience as well). Binstock and Willis stressed the significance of being part of the Jewish Olympics and the opportunity Maccabi Canada presents to its athletes.
“It’s not only about volleyball, but also about representing yourself and your country,” said Binstock. “It’s a life experience. You meet other Jews from your country and have an opportunity to bond. It’s not like you’re going to forget about teammates after the Games. It’s something we will have forever.”
“We’re also connecting with Jews from around the world, creating social bonds. Once you’re there, there are more things than the competition.”

For Willis the 2013 Games will be her second Maccabiah experience. After a bronze medal in 2009 with the indoor squad, she’s looking for a different color in 2013.

“The Maccabiah was an amazing experience,” said Willis of the tours, events and hospitality that rounded out the Games. “Our team worked very hard leading up to the Games and our goal was to be the first Canadian team to take home a medal in men’s volleyball.”
“I really felt connected to the experience and the athletes were extremely receptive to all of our efforts….and it paid off.”

Willis agrees that the competition and the Israel experience complement each other. “Any time you bring athletes together from across the country to represent your country – that is something truly special,” she said, “and an honor and a privilege that most athletes and coaches never get.”

“I have participated in several international sporting events. What makes this different is the combination of multi-sport games, travelling and touring, and the bond that our religion and heritage create for us as a group – across all countries. I have made several good friends from other countries that I have stayed in touch with. We not only share a history, we share a sport. That gives a terrific basis from which to nurture long-term bonds.”

While 2013 will provide many of the same challenges the team faced in 2009, including limited practice time prior to the Games, and teammates who don’t know each other, Willis remains optimistic about the possibilities.

“We won’t do much through the year, as almost everyone is playing somewhere already,” said Willis as she prepares her Queen’s squad for the 2012-13 season. Her team includes two 2013 Maccabi Canada players with international experience – Aaron Nusbaum, of Aurora, Ontario (Maccabiah beach volleyball – 2009) and Jacob Glantz, of St. Catharines, Ontario (Maccabiah men’s soccer – 2009).

“I am hoping to train in Toronto for a few days before we head to Israel and then continue to build the team system once we arrive. It is tough to do much more than that, given that we have athletes from all over the country on the team. I feel we may have the best men’s team Canada has ever put together, and that if we stay healthy and focused, we can challenge Israel for gold. Being in that final (is what it’s all about) – anything else is just duplication, and we should be able to do better than that.”

Willis also recognizes the impact the Maccabiah experience has had on her life.

“I would say, you have to experience this event at least once, and if you go once, you’ll be hooked,” says Willis. “I would also encourage coaches to go through their sport governing bodies to find athletes who are in your sport and are eligible. We didn’t wait for athletes to come to us – we went out and sought them.”

For Binstock the road to success has been filled with sacrifices. “Prior to that (goal to make the Olympic team) I never committed myself fully,” he said. Now his commitment continues as he aims for a medal at the 2013 Maccabiah, and a chance to compete at the Pan-Am Games in Toronto in 2015, and the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Binstock and Willis are just two pieces of the Maccabiah puzzle that Maccabi Canada is assembling for next year’s Games. Throughout the country athletes, coaches and organizers are preparing themselves both physically and mentally for this once-in-a-lifetime experience. The commitment to succeed has already begun with training, fundraising and dreams of medals spurring them on.

In a little over 250 days the dreams of many will be closer to reality.