Connecting classrooms

We are all human, but few of us are humane

Zeljko Celikovic (43) is the most famous Paralympic athlete from Uzice. He has never been Fate’s favourite. He survived an accident that could have been fatal. There aren’t many people like him. We were his guests at the Uzice stadium while he was working with his two young successors in sport.
Zeljko went in for sport at a very young age in 1985. He trained football but since he lived seven kilometers away from school, going in for athletics made more sense. From 1994-1997, he was a member of the Serbian national athletic team. Then he had n accident but he did not let it ruin his life. On the contrary, he gathered all his strength and became even better than before. He won nine medals at various Paralympic competitions. Since 2001, he has been a coach at Uzice Athletic Club. He took part in three Summer Paralympics and competed in the finals twice, in the 5,000m race and the marathon. He says it was an unbelievable experience and believes that Paralympic Games are underestimated even though they are much more difficult than the Olympics because they ask for harder and longer preparations. However, the situation has improved for the Paralympic athletes in the last few years and today they are also entitled to scholarships.
Zeljko says that even today he is driven by his love for athletics and sport in general despite the fact that it takes a lot of effort and hard work to achieve something in sport. His message for young people is to take more part in sport, and not to have idols. ‘It is fine to have a role model, somebody to admire, but not an idol. Real sportsmen and sportswomen should not have idols.’ He strongly believes there should be no membership fees in sport clubs and associations. He himself coaches young athletes without a fee, which should be a normal thing everywhere. If there was a fee, there should then be more training sessions, 5-6 times a week.
Zeljko introduced us to two young athletes he is currently coaching: Milos Zaric and Petar Udovicic. Milos started in the same way as Zeljko; he trained football until he was twenty or so, had a car accident and became paralysed. He met Zeljko at the end of 2009 and was introduced to athletics, javelin, discus throw and shot put. He has been competing regularly at national and international competitions and made the best result at the European Championship in the Netherlands, where he won three medals. His great wish is to participate in the 2016 Summer Paralympics in Rio de Janeiro.
Petar is the youngest, only 15 years old, and has been running for a year now. He has already won two medals at the national championship, a gold and a bronze. Both these young men train really hard and their main driving force is a wish to win.
Although the public is not too familiar with their work and triumphs, they keep going on. They fight. They succeeded in changing their lives for the better at the most difficult moments and thus became heroes. But they are not heroes from cartoons and books with magical powers. They are the people who have beaten their fears and overcome all the obstacles. That is what makes them REAL heroes.

Text and photos by Ana and Vojo

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