HARRISON, N.Y. -- Ethan Zohn is a real-life survivor.
Zohn, who is speaking at the JCC Harrison on May 11 at the Jewish National Fund's Positively Israel Reception, won "Survivor: Africa" and is also a two-time cancer survivor. A former soccer player, he also runs his own charity, Grassroot Soccer, to combat HIV/AIDS in Africa.
"I'm really excited to be working with the Jewish National Fund," Zohn said. "The values I learned growing up being Jewish helped me win "Survivor" and beat cancer. It helped me survive and thrive in life."
Zohn has been to Israel twice. The first time was as a soccer player while the second time changed his life. He took his girlfriend Lisa on a trip that became a transformational experience.
"She thought it would be a nice little trip and we would get to eat hummus," Zohn said. "I had an ulterior motive."
The Israel trip was a way for Zohn to educate his girlfriend on what it meant to be Jewish.
"It worked," Zohn said. "When she came back she made the choice to live a Jewish lifestyle and convert to Judaism. We got married last summer."
Zohn is most well known for his two appearances on "Survivor." Aside from winning "Survivor: Africa," he also competed on "Survivor: All-Stars," being the 8th player eliminated.
"It was pretty freaking awesome," Zohn said. "The game touches on a part of you. You are stuck out of there. It's kind of a battle. It's a little scary and you feel isolated. But as a competitive athlete, I was used to pushing my body to the limit. To do that in front of millions of viewers was exciting."
Playing soccer in Zimbabwe and competing on "Survivor: Africa" gave Zohn a firsthand look at the HIV-AIDS crisis on the continent, which led him to use a portion of the $1 million he won on Survivor to co-found Grassroot Soccer.
"As Jews, we learn about a responsibility to care for the sick and hungry," Zohn said. "The lessons I learned growing up as a Jew all started to click with me."
Zohn said the rate of new infections among babies has decreased in Africa, yet the rate of infections in adolescents is increasing. His charity uses sports to help provide education and treatment to reduce the spread of HIV/AIDS.
"We're turning the corner, but it's still a major problem," Zohn said
Following his Survivor win, Zohn battled a rare form of Hodgkin's disease and chest cancer. On March 17, he celebrated five years of being cancer-free and is in good health.
"When you are going through cancer, it can be a lonely feeling," Zohn said. "You're surrounded by all these people you love, but you never felt so alone. It's comforting when you find out there's a whole community around you. That gave me support and helped me the most."
Zohn said people battling cancer need to remember they are not alone and to do what they can to reduce stress in their life.
"Modern medicine is amazing," Zohn said. "Trust your doctor. Spend time with family and friends that care, eat good foods and always stay positive. People who are negative don't do as well. Keep your mind active. You are not alone."
Following his speech at the JCC, Zohn will be visiting Solomon Schecter School in Hartsdale to honor a student who is promoting a 3 on 3 soccer tournament to raise money for Grassroots.
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