A Dream Come True: Gabe Wasserman ’24 Represents USA in 2022 Maccabiah Games
By Pam Moore
Whitman College student-athlete Gabe Wasserman ’24 ran in the Maccabiah Games this summer with two goals:
- Earn a medal.
- Fully appreciate the opportunity to compete on the world stage.
Often called the Jewish Olympics, the Maccabiah Games are held in Israel every four years and attract some of the best Jewish athletes in the world. Wasserman, who is majoring in environmental studies with a focus in sociology, competed in the 5K and 10K in Jerusalem in July 2022. He accomplished both of his goals—and he’s quick to credit the Whitman community for their part in that, including his teammates and coaches who continually cultivate a culture of gratitude, as well as the training staff who helped him rehab a painful and persistent injury.
The Road to the Maccabiah Games
As a fourth-generation Maccabiah athlete, Wasserman’s dream of representing the USA in Israel took root long before he ever donned a Whitman jersey. Growing up in Madison, Wisconsin, he recalls his dad pushing him and his twin brother in a stroller in local road races—sometimes to a first-place finish.
Wasserman says he was a “super athletic kid” who grew up playing a variety of sports, including soccer and Ultimate Frisbee. “I would be lying if I said I loved running right away,” he says. Over time, he came to appreciate and enjoy the training and team camaraderie. “It was in high school that I fell in love with running.”
As a member of Whitman’s Cross Country and Distance Track teams, Wasserman has made impressive strides, competing at conference championships every season of his college career (apart from 2020 when competitions were canceled due to COVID-19). After running a personal best in the 5,000 meters at the first meet of the 2021 track season, his dream of competing in the Maccabiah Games came into focus—despite an Achilles tendon injury that would sideline him for the rest of the season.
He ran the idea of the Maccabiah Games by Whitman’s Head Cross Country Coach Scott Shields ’91. “I thought he would probably tell me it was unrealistic,” but Shields was “super supportive,” Wasserman says.
He ultimately qualified for both the 5K and 10K. But with his injured Achilles, building his fitness and confidence required creativity and support from Shields as well as Jocelyn Awe, director of sports performance, and Anna Doyel, assistant athletic trainer, all of whom were instrumental in his rehab. The road to Jerusalem included many monotonous hours of pool running, daily strengthening exercises and a gradual return to running.
While Awe and Doyel helped Wasserman regain strength and mobility leading up to the Games, Shields offered strategic training guidance and encouragement. Per NCAA rules, Wasserman couldn’t officially represent Whitman, which meant Shields couldn’t give detailed training plans or supervise his workouts in preparation for the international event. “Shields did a great job of supporting me as much as he could while adhering to NCAA policies,” Wasserman says.
A Dream Realized
At the Games, Wasserman was thrilled for the chance to represent not only Whitman but his fellow Division III athletes too—albeit unofficially. In an international arena, “it was really special to show that we can hold our own with the ‘big dogs,’” he says.
He wasn’t just racing for a podium spot though. Wasserman set out to run Jerusalem’s cobblestone streets with the same mindset coach Shields had instilled in him in Walla Walla. “He taught our team how important it is to be together, something we’re all especially grateful for after COVID. I really wanted to soak it in and be thankful for the opportunity.”
Despite hot weather and hilly terrain, Wasserman excelled and prevailed. He finished third and fifth in the 10K and the 5K, respectively, while maintaining an attitude of gratitude throughout—even when he and his competitors were led off course during the 10K. Having pre-run the course, he was able to get back on track quickly. “It was a slow grind, but I got it done, and I was proud of myself for knowing the course,” he says.
Two days later, he felt fatigued while running the 5K and he didn’t perform as well as he might have, but still, that race offered him a memory he’ll hold onto fondly. “It was just a really great opportunity to race in the stadium under the lights.”
Coming Home to Whitman
Wasserman certainly isn’t done challenging himself. His goals include earning all-conference honors in both cross country and distance track—and savoring his last few semesters before graduation. As a junior, who also works as a campus tour guide, he can now give younger students the sense of belonging that drew him to Whitman. As a prospective student, he spent two days attending classes, meals and practices with the team and immediately felt at home.
“From day one, I had a family here at Whitman and that is definitely still the case.”
Wasserman credits his team captains with creating a supportive, welcoming culture. “They have a way of making you really focus on being better as an athlete, as a student, as a person. At the same time, they make it so fun to come to practice.” Sharing laughs and rich conversations make long runs a lot easier— plus, it never hurts to look forward to a post-workout burrito from Taq,* he says.
Although running is often considered an individual sport, Wasserman says there’s nothing like the way his teammates lift each other up. “Every time we race, we remind each other of how lucky we are just for the chance to come together as a team.”
Read about how Gabe Wasserman and others are reviving Whtiman’s student-led athletics fan group: Whit City!
*Taqueria Mi Pueblito, a Mexican eatery on Issacs Avenue that’s popular with Whitman students.