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Israeli Combat Soldier with Cerebral Palsy

August 24, 2020 | by Israel Hayom and Eran Navon

Dor Frir is the first soldier with cerebral palsy to serve in a combat role in the IDF. He's already a hero.

Sgt. Dor Frir of the IDF's 7th Armored Brigade stands in formation at the GC Northern Command, very excited. With a shaking hand, he accepts his outstanding soldier citation from GOC of the command, Maj. Gen. Amir Baram.

All of Dor's friends and family who watched the ceremony on a livestream knew how far Dor had come to fulfill his life's dream. Twenty years ago, he was born with cerebral palsy, which caused him issues with his legs and arms.

Only when Dor started studying karate under Yisrael Siyali did his life begin to change. He gained strength, overcame his mobility difficulties, and enlisted in the IDF as a combat soldier. According to IDF figures, he is the first cerebral palsy sufferer to serve as a combat soldier.

In spite of the tough periods, I proved I could overcome almost any physical difficulty.

"Yisrael believed in me," Dor says. "He taught me to walk correctly, to run in a straight line, to stand up straight. He worked hard. He changed my life. I joined the Armored Corps, and in spite of the tough periods, I proved I could overcome almost any physical difficulty."

Dor talks to Israel Hayom at his family's home in Rishon Lezion while he is enjoying a week's leave. Someone watching him move around the house can't tell he has cerebral palsy.

His mother, Sigal, says "We took him to treatments with neurologists and orthopedists. We had an amazing private doctor, and we did everything to help him progress as much as possible."

As a child, Dor did not entirely understand his condition. He couldn't play much at recess, because he would constantly fall.

"I was full of energy and just wanted to work it off, so it was really frustrating to fall down in the middle of a game. It wasn't nice," he says.

"From a young age, I realized I couldn't fall into a cycle of feeling bad and bad moods, because it would never end. I always got back on my feet, physically and emotionally. Luckily, the kids in my class never made fun of me. Sometimes I was embarrassed, but I got over it."

Dor says, "I wanted to move ahead, like everyone … For me, the worst thing was to be pitied or for people to go easy on me. I didn't go easy on myself."

Dor, left with his karate teacher and "angel" Yisrael Siyali

When he was nine, Dor's doctors said he had gone as far as he could in terms of walking, running, and stability. Then Siyali, the karate instructor, came to the family's house and met Dor.

"He wasn't in good shape. When he stood or walked, his feet turned in. His knees were bent, his bottom stuck out. He wasn't standing straight. The bones in his leg weren't straight, and he didn't open his hands properly. He didn't use his fingers properly," Siyali says.

Siyali wasn't ready to accept the doctors' decree and started studying cerebral palsy.

"I studied Dor's functioning and racked my brain about what to do with him. I sat him down and said, 'I believe in you, and you believe in yourself.' I realized that with a lot of faith, consistency, and work, we could fix a lot in his brain. I decided to make him my life's work," Siyali says.

The two started to work together. At first, Siyali didn't even teach him karate. He focused on straightening Dor's feet and posture.

"I demanded a lot of him, and he met all the challenges. It's really hard for a person to change habits, but Dor did it like a champ."

Dor say, "Every week we'd take over the living room, and Yisrael just changed my entire posture. He helped me stand differently, and suddenly I started to walk and run in a straight line.

"After a few months of work, I felt that I was gaining confidence in my body. I was falling a lot less, and it strengthened me, physically and mentally. For me, Yisrael was an angel who appeared in my life and never stopped pushing me forward."

Three years after Yisrael started working with Dor, his son, Doron, was killed in a car accident in Tel Aviv.

"With all the grief and sadness, I knew I wouldn't stop treating Dor. I found comfort and healing in working with him, from giving something to someone else," Siyali says.

The two continued to work together until Dor started 12th grade.

"I wasn't afraid to play soccer. I didn't fall down, and I was comfortable running. It was a huge change for me," Dor says.

Dor also did well academically, completing the highest-level matriculation exams in physics, mathematics, computers, and English.

Although his military profile allowed him physically undemanding service in the IDF's Intelligence Corps or in one of the army's tech units, Dor wanted to serve in a combat role.

"I didn't want to sit in front of a computer all day. I wanted to challenge myself. I decided to do all I could to make it into a combat unit. I knew I wouldn't give up on that dream."

When the time arrived for his first enlistment interview, he came armed with his medical file and "a huge drive to show the doctor that I was fit for combat service."

He was assigned a medical profile of 72, which made him eligible for combat service. The doctor told him he was unusually high-functioning.

Dor enlisted at the end of July 2018 and was sent to basic training in the Armored Corps. "It was clear it was going to be tough. Stressful. Exciting. All of a sudden I signed off on a weapon, and I was a member of the legendary 7th Armored Brigade. All I wanted and dreamed of and hoped would happen was happening."

I fell down a lot. It frustrated me every time, and it was embarrassing, but I always got up and continued.

"Basic training lasted four months, and on the first trek, which was five kilometers [three miles], I felt good. But the more time went by, the harder it was, mostly physically. My legs weren't used to the round-the-clock effort. They would make us run from place to place, and it was hard. I fell down a lot. It frustrated me every time, and it was embarrassing, but I always got up and continued. Lucky for me, the soldiers with me were great."

"My platoon commander in basic training knew about my problem, but I didn't explain it to the other soldiers. I asked them not to go easy on me. I said I wanted to be exactly like everyone else," he says.

After three months, Dor gathered his comrades and told them his full story. "They listened and responded warmly. None of them made fun of me, the opposite."

There were difficult moments. At one point, Dor called his parents and told them he didn't know what he was doing.

His father, Yuval, says, "We know what kind of character this kid has. But when he enlisted, it was clear that this was something else entirely. We were concerned. We waited for him to call, to let us know that everything was all right."

At the end of basic training, Dor and his comrades completed a 24-kilometer (15 mile) march from Jerusalem to Latrun, where they marked the completion of the first stage of their service.

Dor was named the outstanding recruit of his basic training course. His platoon commander handed Dor his own beret as a badge of respect.

Dor's parents and younger brothers, as well as Yisrael Siyali, were all present.

"I was so proud of the kid, the outstanding soldier who didn't go easy on himself for a single second," the teacher says.

Dor progressed to specialized training in the Armored Corps. "That was easier, because we dealt more with tanks and less with running and marching."

When he was through with specialized training, Dor was assigned to the 75th Armored Battalion, where he serves as a gunner on a Merkava tank.

"I was really happy to join the company, and I like it there. We trained in the Golan Heights, and then we were deployed near Mount Hermon. I'm with good friends, and I feel like I've improved."

"The difficulties I had in basic training and specialized training only moved me forward. It proved more than anything that I can handle physical challenges and difficulties. Military service has been really empowering for me."

At the beginning of May, the head of the Northern Command named Dor an outstanding soldier. His parents drove north for the ceremony, even though they knew they would not be allowed to attend because of coronavirus restrictions.

Dor is slated to be discharged from the military next year. For now, he isn't thinking of making the Israeli army his career.

"I'm thinking about traveling. Maybe I'll go to Australia, if the skies are open by then.  Then I'll study at university," he says.

This article originally appeared in Israel Hayom.

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