Dear Natasa, a simple question to start – how are you? How is the studying going, and training?
To be honest, I’m actually feeling great. Nevertheless, these days I am studying very hard because the examination period is getting closer – I am in my third year at Singidunum University (tourism department) and along with that I am also studying Sports Management. Basketball is on hold at the moment, because the season is over. Still, my conditioning trainer and I, we are exercising every day, so I can stay in good shape. At the moment I am focusing on my studies and responsibilities at my Foundation.
When did you realize that you wanted to be a basketball player? How much did your parents play a role in your choice, considering the fact they were both active in athletics when they were young?
It was in 2002 during the Indianopolis World Cup. As a family, we were very keen in supporting our national team. It was then that I realized that basketball might be my professional option. Though, I have to admit I had another very strong motive to start training – at the time I fell in love with Peja Stojakovic (the Serbian professional basketball player) and I wished to become a basketball player, too. Somehow, it came as a natural choice to do some kind of sport, because we are all sports-oriented in my family. My mother wanted me to be a volleyball player, but in the end I chose basketball. In a way, we could say it was Peja Stojakovic’s fault for that.
Can you try to explain what it is that motivates an athlete who keeps training even when he or she is not so into it, or to keep fighting after a defeat? Do you use the same motivation in your private life, too?
I think that the greatest drive for an athlete is love for sports and the fact that these kinds of people possess a competitive character. They will do whatever it takes to beat the opponent, so they will train even when they don’t feel like it, because every single bit of training makes a difference on the court. A wish for a good score also matters, because you cannot expect a great score in the game if you give up every time it’s hard. My personal experience has shown me that the way I was raised also affected a lot of my attitudes. Athletics taught me never to give up no matter how tough the situation is. This attitude I use in my private life too. That is why I think it is very important for children to train.
At a very early stage of your career, you experienced something that would completely paralyse many of us. You came through it not only as a winner, but as a great inspiration to so many people. How do you see life now, after the car accident in 2013 when your leg was amputated?
I simply try to live my life by my rules, no matter what. So, I don’t look at life differently after the accident. Nothing has changed. The accident hasn’t changed my life philosophy. I matured, but I am still the same person as before. What I have learned is to enjoy fully every single day and to look at the positive side of every problem I face. When the worse comes to the worst, we should all be happy with what we have and appreciate it.
I read somewhere that your parents and brother were so devastated after the accident, that you were the one who was comforting them instead of vice versa. How did you discover such mental strength?
My family is my biggest support in life. We have always been there for each other, and we stuck together, and that is something I’m very proud of. I simply tried to explain to my brother and to my parents that losing my leg was not the end of the world. For that reason, I tried to make jokes as much as I could, and my brother was often there with me. So we came to the conclusion that after the accident I would never be nervous or cranky again because I wouldn’t be able to get off on the wrong foot, since now I have only one. I simply accepted the facts and decided to fight. My aim was to get my life back to normal, as soon as possible.
Only two months after the accident you started walking, and four months after that you were driving. HOW? Do you truly believe that maybe it’s all in the saying that the way we think is the way we live?
I think it is very tricky to draw general conclusions. We are all unique. I am a hyperactive person, and my recovery went fast because I had a great wish to resume normal life as soon as possible. From the time I was a kid, I trained twice a day, so lying in bed all the time was not option in my mind, it didn’t feel natural. The urge to get out of the bed was so strong that somehow, deep down, I knew I would make it.
In November last year, two years after the accident, you were running around the court wearing the uniform of the Red Star club (KK Crvena zvezda, Belgrade). Can you share with us how you felt at that moment?
I was so happy, indeed. From the moment I first tried my leg prosthesis, I knew I would get back to the basketball court soon. The only thing I wished was to be fully ready, mentally and physically, for the whole process. I am especially glad I came back wearing a Red Star uniform because that was the club that led me to the Hungarian UNI Győr team. The feeling was outstanding, but at the same time I felt like I had never left the court and I was exactly where I should be.
You were called unstoppable, a miracle, a heroine….I would, rather, say you are one cheerful adventurer. You have even managed to jump out of a plane! Can you describe that amazing experience for us?
Parachuting was always one of my greatest wishes. While I was still lying in the hospital, the surgeon who operated on me, Dr. Vulovic, told me about his skydiving experience and I liked it so much I said to myself: “I am going to do this one day no matter what!”. So now, I can freely say I jumped out of an airplane following a doctor’s recommendation. The whole adventure was unforgettable, and the most exciting detail was the moment when I was on the edge of an aircraft waiting to jump. I encourage everybody to try this. It is something incredible, and my first jump is not going to be my last one, for sure.
Recently, you received a special reward for outstanding contribution in the field of socially engaged work at this year’s Pro-Femina Conference. What is the crucial message you would like to share from this experience?
The message is simple – everyone should think more about socially engaged work. In the harsh times we are living in, we should strive to promote the values of humanity. If every one of us would, in some way, help someone who really needs it, the world would be a better place.
What is your last thought before going to bed, and do you have a motto?
With no doubts my motto is – Carpe diem – use the day. I also repeat to myself often – What doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger. At the end of each day I like to sum it up, think of the things I did that day, analyze my mistakes, and try not to repeat them.
Photo: Blic, Svet, Marko Metlas