BELONGING

Neighbor and Triathlete Ariel Agron Defies the Loneliness of His Sport

By

Erika Riley

– VOL. 16

Ariel Agron’s father used to wake him and his brothers up early every day to play tennis, run, and swim—all before school started. 

His father insisted the boys participate in exercise and a healthy lifestyle—a remnant of surviving World War II, Ariel says—and the daily regimen served as a prime stepping stone for Ariel’s future career as a competitive athlete.

Ariel, who has lived in Venn’s Tel Aviv community for the last five years, competed in the 2022 Maccabiah Games this June, placing as one of the three top winners in the MaccabiMan Triathlon. The Maccabiah Games are the third-largest sporting event in the world, after the Olympics and the FIFA World Cup. Often called the “Jewish Olympics,” the event brought over 10,000 Jewish athletes from around the world to Israel to compete this year. 

It was Ariel’s first time competing in the games, although he’s been participating in triathlons for several years. His initial interest in the sport came around age 10, when he and his family had recently immigrated from Russia. He heard about the “IsraMan” competition, which is the Israeli version of the Ironman triathlon. 

“It was my first glimpse at the dream of becoming more Israeli, to feel that I’m part of this place,” he said. “And I decided that one day I would do it.”

In the Ironman, athletes must swim 2.4 miles, bike 112 miles, and run 26.2 miles, making it a combination of long distances in each sport. To begin his journey to the IsraMan, Ariel first completed a sprint-length triathlon 12 years ago. Over the course of a year, he increased his distances so he could complete an Olympic triathlon and then a half-Ironman.

A year after his first triathlon, he registered for the IsraMan. After completing the race in 13 hours and receiving his medal, he felt he had accomplished a long-sought-after goal, and embraced his identity as an Israeli.

Image of Ariel Agron Triathlete

Ariel took first place in 2021 Maccabiah Games triathlon.

“After a couple of months, I figured out and understood that no contest, it doesn’t matter how prestigious it is, it doesn’t make me more or less Irsaeli. I am happy that I succeeded in finishing this crazy thing—I don’t know why people do it,” Ariel said with a laugh. 

Ariel qualified for the Maccabiah Games this year, and looked forward to what he thought would be a week-long vacation meeting athletes from all over the world. And although he says the games “do not take themselves too seriously,” he found himself surprised by how draining the experience was. The athletes traveled all over the country and often only stayed in each location for one night at a time, moving between cities each day. 

“I wanted to make more friends with other teams because how many opportunities do you have to meet Jewish athletes from all around the world in one place? But because the competitions were very intense… we got very close with our Israeli team, but unfortunately, I didn’t get in contact with as many other athletes from around the world as I wished to.”

However, the experience of being on a team was new and welcome to Ariel. Triathlons are usually very individual events, so it was a new experience for him to work together with the other athletes on the Israeli team. He found there was a lot of respect between the athletes as well, as they all knew how much work went into completing a triathlon. 

Image of Ariel Agron Triathlete

Ariel, far left, has developed amazing connection competing and training for endurance races like the Maccabiah triathlon.

“We know what it takes: the distances and the early hours and the liters of sweat. It’s a sport of distances and time,” Ariel said. “So we respect the will and the motivation and the determination of one another. People that are suffering together, it makes them closer.”

Teamwork and peer support also plays into Ariel’s day-to-day life in the Venn community in Tel Aviv as well. Currently living in his third apartment with Venn, he loves the communal and social lifestyle he can maintain while also having his own space. His eight-unit building shares a common garden, which Neighbors frequently use for potluck dinners or to watch movies 

He compares it to a kibbutz but within an urban community. Although kibbutz and communal living are not nearly as popular as they were in their heyday in the 1960s and 70s , Ariel respects many of their core tenets like sharing resources and growing as a community. The support system in such a neighborhood is not unlike that created by a team of athletes working together.

“[Venn] is the perfect middle way of having my own space but also living in the community,” he says. “I don’t feel alone.”