In an interview with ZENIT this week, an Olympic superstar has shared her inspiring journey of faith and how, all of a sudden, Jesus took place in her soul like a “missing piece of a puzzle.”
Blanka Vlašić, a Croatian native and oldest child within an accomplished sporting family, is one of the best high jump athletes in the history of athletics.
Born in 1983, she was named after the Moroccan city of Casablanca, where, that same year, her father, Josko, won the gold medal at the Mediterranean Games and who is the decathlon's current Croatian record holder. Blanka’s sporting talent was spotted at an early age, beginning to train alongside her father at just age seven.
Crowned twice as World Champion in Osaka in 2007 and Berlin in 2009, in 2008 Blanka won the Olympic Silver Medal in Beijing. In 2010, she earned the title of world sportswoman of 2010 as well as various other titles and accolades. However, she missed the London 2012 Olympics due to an Achilles tendon injury.
After a two-year absence on the athletics scene due to the injury, Blanka made her welcomed return to a major event in 2013.
The Olympian also speaks on the "Sports, Much More Than Entertainment" event held this Saturday at the European University in Rome, in which the Croatian athlete participated with various other Olympians and famous athletes. Organized by the European University of Rome, that is part of a network of 15 universities, the event intended to show how sports are "an arena to train and enhance body and soul". It was also supported by the Pontifical Council for the Laity, the National Italian Olympic Committee, and Centro Sportivo Italiano.
ZENIT: Can you speak about how your faith played a role in your journey? Was it always present, or did you have a point in which you rediscovered (or discovered) it again?
Ms. Vlasic: My brothers and I have received all the sacraments, but it was only recently that Mum and Dad were married in the Church. Our faith was more of a tradition, and after our confirmation it was not even that. Just like any family, we’ve been through good and bad periods, somehow always managing to keep our heads above the surface. But without solid support in Our Lord, we would often make judgment from our own perspective, which often led us to various disputes and even alienation. One situation was following injuries and an ankle operation, I found it extremely tough on the road to recovery and the return to jumping.
At the time, I was in some kind of dispute with my oldest brother, Marin. We weren’t as close as we were before and I didn’t know what was going on in his life. I knew that he, too, after an ankle operation (as a consequence of his basketball days) had major health problems, but I wasn’t aware that he had started to attend Mass. I was quite astonished when one day he approached me and said he’s praying for me. I was shocked, as this wasn’t the Marin I knew.
He started to talk to me about God, conversion and the way in which Jesus reaches out to us. At first, I put a large wall around myself, but the Holy Spirit was at work, as all walls eventually fall down like a tower of cards. I’ll never forget that special moment of grace. Tears started to fall by themselves and suddenly everything became crystal clear. It was as if I had been brought up in faith my whole life and everything I never thought about, I suddenly knew. Jesus took place in my soul where he had always meant to be, like a missing piece of a puzzle. That night I fell asleep calm and I remember I had a thought: whatever would happen in the future, should I jump again or not, the Lord is with me and I have nothing to fear. I started to regularly go to Mass, confession and taking Communion.
ZENIT: Can you reflect on how your family has been involved throughout your journey?
Ms. Vlasic: I grew up within a sporting family. Mum and dad were both keen on sport in their youth, and they actually met at university where they graduated in physical education. So, I can safely say that my “career path” was roughly defined even while I was still in the womb.
My dad noticed my exceptional coordination skills, even before I took my first steps. In fact, I could crawl with remarkable speed. Very quickly our common leisure activities were reduced to spending time playing various sports and doing exercises, usually in the playground outside school, where through playing I managed to fine-tune my coordination movements, learning the basic gymnastic elements and how to catch and throw balls. As I said: through playing, but also taking on the challenge. My dad knew how to motivate me and help me maintain my concentration compared to kids my age who could barely hold their focus for longer than half an hour. Since he himself was an athlete, he simply knew all the characteristics needed to become a professional.
ZENIT: What according to you is the importance of Saturday's sporting event?
Ms. Vlasic: I think the importance is in the testimony. We’re not strong enough to simply rely on ourselves, even if the world today promotes such thinking, proclaiming everything else as a weakness. We have been taught to hide our flaws behind a mask of “strength and self-confidence,” which is just a smokescreen that disappears at the first sign of trouble. Only when we turn and look to Jesus can we find the meaning of the cross, we consistently seem to run away from. As an athlete who is in the public spotlight, life is easier and more complete knowing God’s mercy and infinite love. A feeling, in fact, of coming home.
On the NET:
Blanka Vlasic Official Site: http://www.blanka-vlasic.hr/en/
Official Website for Event: www.abcthinking.com
English Program for Event: http://www.abcthinking.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/abcsports-English-program.pdf