“On July 24, 1983, you were born the first time, and on March 7, 2002, you were born again.”
—Victoria Ohayon (my mother)
Atzmona Pre-Army Academy, Israel, March 7, 2002:
My night class was interrupted by gunfire. Located in a hostile area, I was used to those sounds. This time, however, their proximity was terrifying. Seconds later, a terrorist with a rifle was running in my direction and shooting into the classroom. My first reaction was disbelief: This can’t be happening. Reality set in quickly, and, terrified, I instinctively fell to the ground, covered my head, closed my eyes and hoped it would be over soon.
Being shot was not as painful as you might think, but it was accompanied by a paralyzing sense that something very bad had happened. Two days later when I awoke in the hospital, I heard for the first time what had taken place. The terrorist had murdered five friends and severely injured many others. I had not just been hit by a bullet. Shrapnel from a grenade had severed my spinal cord. The doctors told me I would never walk again. That was the hardest moment of my life. Realizing that my friends were dead and that I was paralyzed was worse than being shot.
When I arrived at the rehabilitation hospital, my physical and mental conditions were dreadful. I spent bleak days in torturous pain, terrified by my future, by people, by life itself. My entire world had collapsed; I had gone from being a young athlete to someone who needed help to perform even the simplest everyday tasks. All I wanted to do was feel sorry for myself. In the beginning, I only concentrated on my physical condition to block out the emotional fear of the future. I was in sheer survival mode.
However, those long weeks in bed provided me with ample time to think about what’s important in life. I came to see how fragile life is, and I felt that my survival must be meaningful. I understood that I had a decision to make, and, eventually, it was a simple one. I decided not to let this horrific event dictate my future.
From that point on, I was determined to seize every moment and to do whatever it took to overcome my injury and regain my life. I had to relearn everything, even the simplest everyday tasks—getting out of bed, dressing and feeding myself. I worked intensively on my physiotherapy in the rehabilitation center. My life revolved around the gym and the pool, where I discovered my love of swimming. Although progress was slow, every little accomplishment raised the bar for me. My determination to gain my life back grew every day.
I realized that I wanted to spend my life being a positive influence. At the time, I didn’t know exactly how I would do this. Today, I understand that I must direct my life toward positions that will enable me to have as much impact as possible.
Motivated by this aim, I joined the Sheba Medical Center fundraising team after my rehabilitation and became an international spokesperson for the hospital. I have traveled the world for fundraising events procuring capital to acquire new therapeutic instruments for the hospital. Over the years, I have helped raise millions of dollars and bring new donors into the hospital-funding network. This work is my way to give back and provide other patients with better chances for recovery.
Despite the severity of my injury, I also became a competitive swimmer and national medalist, winning four gold medals at the Israeli National Handicapped Swimming Championships.
I have since sought a career that will have a positive impact on others. I joined Better Place, a revolutionary company that aims to create a market-based transportation infrastructure that supports electric cars. Inspired as well by my faith in green technology, I helped enable the first-ever import of electric vehicles in Israel and the launch of Better Place’s project in Israel.
To make a bigger impact, though, I felt I needed to enhance my managerial skill set and broaden my network. I made one of the best decisions in my life—to come to Wharton.
It is a great privilege and honor to be a member of the Wharton family. My experience on campus is bringing out qualities and strengths buried inside of me. I have already learned to leverage my mathematical background and implement my previous experience in fundraising with a business orientation. I am confident that Wharton’s innovative environment and my classmates’ knowledge and inspiration will equip me with the business tools and connections to achieve my long-term career goal: my own worldwide venture in the field of renewable energy.
My transformation, from someone who could not even hold a cup of water by himself to a pivotal member of an entrepreneurial company, a gold medalist and an MBA candidate at one the world’s best business schools, is proof that the power of determination can lead to great achievements in any path we choose.
Aviad Ohayon is a first-year MBA student. His pre-Wharton background includes an M.Sc in computational biology from Bar-Ilan University in Israel and employment at Better Place, the electric vehicle infrastructure company.