by Isabella Pilot ‘18
Once every four years, Jewish athletes from across the globe travel to Israel to compete in the Maccabiah Games, or “Jewish Olympics.” The 20th Maccabiah Games will occur this summer, July 4-18, and are projected to be the biggest, most successful games yet, with 45 events ranging from track and field to chess. Among the nearly 10,000 athletes from 80 different countries competing is sophomore swimmer Erica Hjelle.
Hjelle heard about the Maccabiah Games from her mom, who won a gold medal for swimming in the 1989 Maccabiah. Hjelle has been competing for nearly 10 years now and swims for Rockville Montgomery Swim Club (RMSC) and Sherwood’s own swim and dive team. Among many major accomplishments in the pool, Hjelle recently placed first in 100 yard breaststroke at the Maryland 4A/3A North Regional Championships.
Hjelle will be competing in the Junior Maccabiah games, open to any qualifying athlete aged 15-18. “I am going to compete in five different events which I have been training for for a while.” These events include 100 meter breaststroke, 200 meter breaststroke, 200 meter individual medley (IM), 400 meter IM, and 100 meter butterfly.
She was selected as one of just 24 swimmers for the USA Junior Swimming Team. “I don’t really know anyone else going, so I am kind of nervous to meet new kids, but I’m really looking forward to it,” she said. Hjelle is one of two Maryland residents on the team, the other being William Lewis, who attends Walt Whitman.
Following Maccabiah tradition of emphasizing the centrality of the State of Israel in the life of the Jewish people, Hjelle will have the opportunity to explore the country and learn more about Jewish culture throughout her trip, a particularly special experience as this will be her first time in Israel. “The first week we are going to see all the historical and religious sites around Israel, but all of the athletes will still be able to train prior to the competition portion of the trip,” said Hjelle.
While many students travel over the summer, very few get the chance to be on live television, let alone compete for a gold medal, so one can only imagine Hjelle’s anticipation. “I have never been away from my family for this long or gone this far away before so I am somewhat nervous, but overall I am really looking forward to swimming and seeing the country,” she said.