Manual High School junior swimmer Peyton Greenberg, who finished 22nd in the 200-meter breaststroke in last month’s national meet, is in Israel this month to compete with the U.S. junior team in the quadrennial Maccabiah Games. It’s an international multisport competition for Jewish athletes, similar to the Olympics, and it’s one of the world’s largest sporting events.
Greenberg, who trains with Lakeside Swim Club, plans to race in the 100 and 200 breaststroke, 200 and 400 individual medley, 200 butterfly and some relays. She spoke with The Courier-Journal’s Steve Jones this week from Jerusalem.
What’s it been like there so far?
I love it. I’m having a great time. Last week we went to a Connect program to tour Israel and have seen a lot of historical stuff. We went to a Holocaust museum. We went to Masada. We went to the Western Wall. We went to the Dead Sea. What I loved so much about it is that it kind of feels like home. They make me feel safe. People are so nice to you, and there is always somewhere to go. They accept anyone who is Jewish. People at home are accepting, too, but here it’s just like you have another home. I’m meeting new people from all over the world. The Italian boys have really good accents.
What one thing have you seen that stood out to you?
The most moving thing to me was the Western Wall. I saw soldiers around my age praying at the Western Wall, and I put my hand on the wall, and I felt so powerful and felt all these people were behind and we were connected in a sort of way. I thought that was a very special moment. I started tearing up when I put my own note in the wall and walked away and thought about all the people who had done it before me. It was a really changing experience, and I feel like part of Israel now.
Are you the only swimmer from Kentucky there?
I think I’m the only athlete from Kentucky here. I’ve been asking around, and everyone says I’m the only person from Kentucky they’ve met. They call me KFP — Kentucky Fried Peyton. It’s not the best name, but it’s a nickname. When I walk down the hallways, they yell, “Hey, Kentucky, what’s up?” and ask me about horse racing and chicken. … It’s a cool experience telling people about Kentucky.
From a swimming perspective, what are you hoping to accomplish over there?
I hope to get a medal (with the 200 breaststroke as a top event). That’s one of my goals, and I hope to meet a lot of people from around the world.
You were able to go over there because a lot of people helped you fundraise, correct?
I had to fundraise $8,000. I put out the word and asked my friends and family, and a lot of people came out to support me. I’m so thankful. It’s such an honor to represent. … The Jewish community helped out so much. They really wanted to see me in Israel.
— Steve Jones