In Bosnia, a poor, Balkan country which habitually marginalizes people with disabilities, a soon-to-be-14-year-old girl, born without her lower left arm, pursues her dream of becoming an internationally recognized rhythmic gymnast
VISOKO, Bosnia-Herzegovina — Sara Becarevic was born without a lower left arm in Bosnia, a poor Balkan country notorious for the large-scale social and economic exclusion of people with disabilities. Still, it never occurred to her that that could stop her from pursuing her dream of becoming an internationally recognized rhythmic gymnast.
Sara says the sport has enchanted her since she was a toddler and watched the world championships on television. It didn’t take her long to try to imitate the moves at home. Fast forward almost 11 years and Sara, who turns 14 on Dec. 16, is winning medals for her club, Visoko, named after the small Bosnian city where she was born.
“Some people said that it was impossible, that I couldn’t do it, but I can,” Sara said.
“I don’t care about what others say, my own sense of what I can achieve is the only thing that matters.”
Neither rhythmic nor artistic gymnastics is represented in the Paralympics, so in order to compete in her chosen sport, Sara has no choice but to compete against able-bodied athletes. She handles the equipment used in the sport with her right arm and the remaining part of her left arm, turning cartwheels with ease despite her disability.
Before choosing Visoko as a rhythmic gymnastics club suitable for her daughter and enrolling her at the age of 9, Sara’s mother Sanela was “worried about how she would be accepted.” But they “had the good fortune” to come across an open-minded, young coach, Amina Lepic-Mlivic.
It was not a small feat in a country where, according to the U.N. children’s agency, UNICEF, “children with disabilities and their families still face discrimination, their rights are often not fully met and they still face limited access to basic services.”
“At first, it was unusual, I won’t say difficult, just unusual, because it was a new experience for me as well. As we were getting acquainted, we were learning from one another,” Lepic-Milavic recalled.
It did not take her long, she added, to realize that Sara was different, “but what made her different was her unique resolve, dedication to practice” and talent.
So far, Sara has brought home medals from several national and international rhythmic gymnastics tournaments, but she sees that as just the beginning.
“I thought it would be difficult, but when you practice hard and try even harder, it becomes easy,” she said, her eyes filling with the glitter of a shy, yet confident, smile.
“My ultimate goal is to compete in the World Championships and the Olympics, to compete with the best (rhythmic) gymnasts” in the world, she added with resolve.
Lepic-Milavic said she has faith in her young disciple who has already proven capable of making her dreams reality. She is less certain that Sara will ever get the support she deserves in Bosnia.
Although the Visoko club was founded by the city and competes internationally under the Bosnian flag, its apparatus, uniforms and travel expenses are typically bankrolled by its members — or rather their parents.
Nevertheless, she quickly added: “I really do have faith in this girl, in Sara, and I am proud that she chose me to be her coach. … I believe that she is capable of one day entering the European or World Championships.”