By Nedim Hasic
Sarajevo, Dec 25 (efe-epa).- Ismail Zulfic, 10, was born without arms but with an innate sporting talent and a tenacity that has seen him become a champion swimmer and a star in his native Bosnia and Herzegovina.
This December he was named sportsperson of the year in his country after receiving 20,000 votes from the public in an annual award organized by local newspaper, Nezavisne novine.
Ismail, who lives in Zenica in central Bosnia, trains three times a week but relies on his father to drive to the Spid sporting club for children with disabilities in Sarajevo, a 150-kilometer round trip.
There are another 87 members of the club.
Ismail has already amassed 40 medals from tournaments in Bosnia and Herzegovina and further afield.
These include a gold medal won in Zadar, Croatia, for the 50m backstroke. He also won the gold medal for the backstroke and a bronze in freestyle at the 2018 Belgrade Open games.
At home, he wins prizes and tumbles records.
“I like skiing, skateboarding and football. I like Ronaldo and (Edin) Dzeko, and I’m a Sarajevo fan. But what I like the most is swimming,” Ismail tells Efe during one of his training sessions, seemingly more interested in jumping back into the pool than talking.
His father, Ismet Zulfic, says that in five years of training he has never said he didn’t want to take part.
“I know things can change with puberty, but for now he likes to be the best in everything he does, in swimming, football and cycling. And he is like that until he wins a medal. When he wins it, he asks the trainer whether they can go for ice cream.”
FEAR OF WATER
Ismail’s relationship with water has not always been the love story it is today. He lived for several years with a fear of it after he fell into a paddling pool as an infant. It took an encounter with Amel Kapo, trainer and founder of the Spid club, to change everything.
Ismail was not easily persuaded and needed a long, friendly discussion and a gradual approach to re-entering the water.
“When he finally entered the water, he forgot about his fear and we’ve been together since,” Kapo tells Efe.
A LOCAL HERO
He soon became a star in his home country, not only for his medal-winning ways but also for his courage in overcoming his disability.
“For me, Ismail is a superhero, like Hulk,” Kapo says.
“The little kid who was introverted has opened up, most of all after people started to recognize him.