He has started every day off on the wrong footfor the past 22 years

He has started every day off on the wrong foot for the past 22 years, but is always smiling. You can''''t count the medals. His qualifications would require a separate introduction. A master''''s degree in economics, an athlete with disability, a referee in sitting volleyball. Sitting volleyball, badminton, marksmanship, swimming, and beach volleyball – these are just some of the sports he has mastered, with a string of victories to prove it. Today we are talking with Zoran Ješić from Banjaluka.

Image of Zoran Ješić, story is part of the campaign PonosniNaSebe"I stepped on an anti-personnelmine in 1994, which led to the amputation of my right shin, 14 cm below the knee. I also suffered some minor injuries to my left hand and head and it was on the basis of those physical injuries I was finally classified as a category 4 veteran with disabilities, 80% bodily damage,”he explains at the beginning of our conversation.
Like most people who received their disabilities in this way, he was convinced to begin with that it was just a phase he would get through thanks to some almost magical solution and end up in even better shape than before the amputation.

"The first major problem I encountered after this traumatic life change was my psychological lack of readiness to move on with life under these new circumstances. That was due to the totally superficial and unprofessional approach to rehabilitation, where I was basically left to myself. What were really just asides by medical staff about how I would get a new leg and it would be even better than the one I had had totally deceived me. They drew me into a quite serious psychological crisis, because when I did get my prosthetic I realised it was unconnected with my real life and I really did have quite a serious problem. I only ever had one conversation with a psychologist and it amounted to little more than me answering some questions put to me,” he says, recalling the period of adjustment to his new circumstances.

Absolute psychological unpreparedness and the inappropriate approach to rehabilitation continued, along with administrative barriers and complicating procedures. "After a bit more than half a year, I succeeded in pulling myself out of this psychological crisis, but there were new problems waiting from me down the line, in the form of unnecessarily complicated procedures to get orthopaedic aids and the accompanying equipment (even socks for the prosthetics, which are practically disposable items), not to mention how old the orthopaedic aids we have a right to are. So, the system was turning me into a person with a bigger disability than I actually have, because it was undermining me by short-changing me and denying my right to appropriate orthopaedic aids, ones which would allow me to make maximum use of my remaining psychological and physical capacities,” he explains.

In this morass of difficulties, sport appeared the only solution. There is probably no level of competition he has not participated at, but his first steps in sport were not simple. He had to fight for everything and had to "stand things upright” himself.

"I remember well that one of the psychologist''''s questions was whether I played any sports and whether I would like to continue playing sport, to which I answered in the affirmative. Unfortunately, that was all there was to it, then, because they made no effort to give me any information about sports that people with my type of disability can expect to get involved in successfully, never mind trying to introduce me to anybody with a disability who was already playing a sport or making it possible to conduct sporting activities inside the institution as part of rehabilitation,” Zoran says.

The lack of systematic support only pushed him to test his own limits. In this way, he became a founder member of the first sitting volleyball clubs in the Republika Srpska– the Banja Luka Sitting Volleyball Club from Banja Luka – and in Serbia – the Banja Luka Sitting Volleyball Club from Belgrade, as well as of the Sitting Volleyball Associations of the Republika Srpska and Serbia. In any case, sport for people with disabilities has to follow a specific recipe for success.

"As my friend, Professor Rajko Vute from Slovenia, would say selection is the key, choosing the right sport for the right type of disability, because if you don’t it’ll just be counterproductive. When you make the wrong choice, the demands made on the individual will be impossible for them and they will just experience dissatisfaction and unhappiness, which is not the goal. But, when the right choice is made, the individual makes steady progress, competing against themselves as much as others, losing and winning, but always experiencing a greater sense of satisfaction and quality of life,”our interlocutor explains.

He balances his professional sporting successes with a personal one – the family he has made with his wife Diana and their two sons, Luka and Stefan. Their story began when they were introduced by a common acquaintance, who thought it very significant that Zoran was missing part of his leg, and it has grown into a life free of prejudice and complexes.
"I don’t talk about his disability, because I don’t experience it as determining his personality in any serious way. We don’t deny it, but in day-to-day life the disability just doesn’t impinge. That’s how he behaves and so do I. I know it’s not easy for him to run after the kid, but he does it. It wasn’t easy for him to get up out of bed at night to pick up the baby, but he did that too to help me. Anyone who hasn’t lived with it wouldn’t give it a second thought. Other people get up without thinking how lucky they are to have both their legs. He has to put on the prosthetic first to be able to stand up. He doesn’t let us go without or see how hard it is for him, and there have been times when it has been and still is. He keeps mum even when the bit of his leg in the prosthesis is inflamed and it hurts and is very difficult to walk. Even then, he runs after Luka, just so Luka doesn’t have to feel his dad is different from his friends’ dads. Sure, how could you not admire a man who has started every day off on the wrong foot for 22 years with a smile on his face all day and doesn’t let anything affect our happiness?” Zoran’s wife asks.

And just when you think there couldn’t be any reason for Zoran to be prouder of all he has achieved, Luka caps the story: "I love my dad because of everything. He plays with me. He buys me all sorts of things. My dad is a superhero!”

Zoran Ješić’s story was told as part of the #PonosniNaSebe campaign, conducted between April and December 2016 by MyRight in cooperation with five coalitions of organisations of persons with disabilities in BiH.

Ana Koturfor MyRight

Austrian Development Co-operation and Light for the World have funded creation of this web site With funding from Austrian Development Cooperation Light for the World