Pascale Bercovitch, who calls herself the world's oldest kayaker, has failed to win a medal at the three previous Paralympic Games, but said she remains hopeful because "she's a better athlete at 54 than at 20."
The Franco-Israeli national rowed for the Jewish state at Beijing 2008, competed in hand-cycling at London 2012 and paracanoeing at Rio 2016. She will compete in Tokyo on September 2–4 in the 200-meter paracanoe sprint.
She had both her legs amputated at age 17 following a train accident in France.
"I wanted to board the train. The opposite happened," she told AFP before a training session on Tel Aviv's Yarkon River.
She won a paracanoe bronze in the 2020 World Cup, and affirmed her age would not inhibit her from Tokyo success.
"I am the oldest kayaker in the world, but I don't really look at numbers," she said, insisting she was "faster and stronger" than she was in her 20s.
A nun's life
Maintaining a level of fitness that surpasses that of her youth requires discipline, said Bercovitch, who has two daughters.
"I don't eat what I want to eat, I eat what I have to eat. I sleep when I have to sleep. I live a nun's life," she said with a smile that seems like a permanent fixture on her face.
She is widely known in Israel for delivering speeches about her life experiences, but the former journalist said her passion for sports is her primary focus.
The postponement of the Games, which kicked off on Tuesday in a ceremony delayed for a year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, demanded an extra level of commitment.
"It's been another year of maintaining the discipline... There were lockdowns. I was training in my garden."
She told AFP she can no longer picture herself as not being in a wheelchair and that she sees herself as "super cute."
"I'm a meter tall, I'm 45 kilos [99 pounds], I'm in a small wheelchair and I go super fast, everywhere, all time — that's me!" she said.
Israel used to be a Paralympic powerhouse, winning 69 medals at Toronto 1976.
But the haul has diminished in recent years — significantly fewer soldiers have been severely wounded in battle than during the initial decades following Israel's creation in 1948.
But Bercovitch and the 33-athlete strong Israeli delegation hopes to top the country's three-medal haul at Rio.
She did not rule out competing in 2024 in Paris, her birthplace, but says she would rather set her focus exclusively on Tokyo.
"It's going to be tight, but I'm going to give it my all and hope for a good outcome," she said.