Swimmer Born without Arms Wins Regional Gold

A six-year-old from Zenica who was born without arms won a gold medal at the regional swimming championship for the disabled in Zagreb this weekend. Ismail Zulfić traveled to the competition in Croatia with a team of Bosnia’s only club for children swimmers with disabilities, Spid. The club members train at the Olympic Pool Otoka in Sarajevo.

“Six children in our club traveled (to Zagreb). Ismail competed in the 50-meter category. When he reached the finish line, he said with a big smile: ‘I won’,” said coach Amel Kapo.

Three times a week, Ismail’s parents drive him to swim training in Sarajevo from their home in the city of Zenica, 70 kilometers north.  It is a considerable financial burden for his father, a steel factory worker, and his unemployed mother, reported AFP last year. But the trips have allowed Ismail to become a proud member of Spid, the only swimming club in the country for children with disabilities.

Bosnian children with disabilities get almost five times less state aid than maimed war veterans, while disabled access to schools, sports halls and other institutions remains hugely limited. Amel Kapo, a 30-year-old sports graduate in Sarajevo, decided to set up the swimming school after he noticed children with disabilities were coming to the pool without professional supervision. He was convinced nobody would deny support to such a project, especially not the authorities, but all he could get from them was a one-off grant of 1,000 euros from the culture ministry.

The training is given for free by Kapo and three fellow volunteers, but the monthly bill to use the municipal swimming pool is around 650 euros, paid through donations from two local businesses.

There are about 50 children in the club from all over Bosnia, home to 300,000 people with disabilities, including 84,000 who fought in the 1992-1995 war. Social benefits weigh heavily on the budget, as nearly half of the active population is unemployed.

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