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Wednesday, February 28, 2024
<p>UF swimmer Kelly Fertel represented Team USA in the&nbsp;<span id="docs-internal-guid-26364cb7-0a12-281b-a437-7635ac48a1ff"><span>Maccabiah Games in Israel over the summer.</span></span></p>

UF swimmer Kelly Fertel represented Team USA in the Maccabiah Games in Israel over the summer.

More than 9,000 people competed in the Maccabiah Games in Israel over the summer. Of them, 1,120 represented Team USA, and of those, only one of them was Florida Gators swimmer Kelly Fertel.

The Maccabiah Games, often referred to as the “Jewish Olympics,” are open to all Jewish and Israeli athletes, taking place in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem every four years. In the 2017 games, Fertel won five gold medals (four individual) and two silver medals (one individual).

“Not only was it a good experience swimming wise, but culture wise and religious wise,” Fertel said.

While she excelled in the games themselves, the event also gave her a chance to see some of Israel’s most prominent landmarks.

“We went everywhere,” she said. “We went to the Dead Sea, we went to Masada, the Western Wall, Old Jerusalem, Tel Aviv. They made sure we hit all the important things.”

From the opening and closing ceremonies — which featured the Parade of Nations, an Olympic-esque march of the competing countries in accordance with the Hebrew alphabet — the Maccabiah Games are a cultural celebration of Judaism, an experience Fertel walked away from with a brand new viewpoint.

“It kinda gave me a new insight on my religion,” she said. “I was religious before, and celebrated holidays, but I guess it gave me a new appreciation and insight on it … I think it helped shape me more as a person.”

Fertel’s opportunity to compete in the games was not only met with enthusiasm on her part, but on her family’s as well.

“Excited doesn’t describe how excited or proud they were,” she said. “It was literally as if I had won the Olympics. It was crazy.”

Coming off her stellar performance at the games, Fertel placed first in the 200 individual medley Sept. 22 at the All-Florida Invitational with a time of 2:02.42, where the women’s team took first place for the eighth year in row. With the first meet of the year over, the team has been preparing for its second meet against Texas and Indiana on Oct. 20.

“The All-Florida Invitational was the first meet of the year, and energy was high,” she said. “I definitely took a lot of learning from my swimming, I watched race videos and talked to my coaches about my races, so there’s definitely more work to be done. That next Monday, we were already back in the water, getting ready to go; it’s on to the next one.”

After all the preparation, Fertel is looking forward to the team’s next opponents in Texas and Indiana.

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“I’m excited for this meet. Texas and Indiana are high caliber teams,” she said. “I think we’re definitely looking forward to improving as a team. Last year we came short of our goals, so this year we’re very motivated to succeed.”

Fertel spent three weeks in Israel for the Maccabiah Games this summer, traveling to its various sacred locations and representing her country at one of the biggest events in the world. She’s also competing in Gainesville for the Gators this year, and through it all, the most important part of swimming to Fertel is the people who surround her.

“A happy swimmer is a fast swimmer,” she said, chuckling as she admitted she stole the phrase from fellow teammate Amelia Maughan. “My teammates and my coaches are awesome. I think we all just like to have fun, and that’s why we swim well.”

You can follow River Wells on Twitter @riverhwells, and contact him at rwells@alligator.org.

UF swimmer Kelly Fertel represented Team USA in the Maccabiah Games in Israel over the summer.

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