October 17, 2023 – This Osijek veteran with a huge heart has long been known in Slavonia for the hundred or so humanitarian projects he has done. His friends reveal that he once went to Serbia when a girl from a home for neglected children wanted a bicycle. And last year he cycled 600 kilometers to help children in Ukraine. Meet Ivica Lenard, the Croatian Ironman!
It was the early 90s, writes Danas, and everyone had to defend their own city. Osijek needed heroes, fighters who would stand before the enemy, and Ivica did not back down. It was January 1991 when a shell exploded, shrapnel became lodged in his leg, and another shrapnel of death lodged in his brain. But it was as if Ivica decided to defy death because the fighter in him loved life.
Looking back, Ivica Lenard (64) does not talk about the episode that shaped him into a man of steel. “He should have died,” were the words of the doctor at the hospital. “His physical strength saved him,” was the conclusion.
There is shrapnel still lodged in Ivica’s brain today, too small a thing to stop him from winning the Croatian Ironman title at the age of 64. Just at the beginning of September in Austria, he ran, swam, and cycled for more than 14 hours straight and won the Ironman title.
He won more than the title and admiration, as he says with a smile: “I want to show young people not to give up, to fight and to be brave.” He does admit that he also wanted to win against himself.
The Croatian Ironman is a Great Humanitarian
With a constant reminder of the war in his head, shrapnel that he must never take out, this man with a spirit of steel and the strength of a giant has been showing his huge heart for years. He has completed around a hundred humanitarian actions to help people around him. He runs and cycles for others and brings help where it is needed, even if that is 600 kilometers away in a Ukraine home for neglected children. Kilometers and physical effort are just another task on his to-do list. This man’s heart is best described by the fact that he didn’t spare a moment when it was necessary to take help to children in Serbia.
All this is quite enough to accept the story of a humanitarian who has long been known by the whole of Osijek and Slavonia. Igor Toman, Ivica’s friend, also a humanitarian and companion (or competition) on his races and cycling tours, was the one to whisper that Ivica recently won the Ironman title.
Ivica’s Story as Told by His Sidekick
And how did Ivica go to the interview from Osijek to Zagreb? On a bicycle, of course, a special bike that has become his signature frame. “I’m Mileni”, Ivica introduced himself by his nickname with a handshake; next to him was his friend Igor: “And I’m Svileni”.
Why Mileni and Svileni – Lovely and Softy? In a few moments, it was clear – Svileni has silky soft skin, so that’s where that came from, and Ivica’s nickname is Mileni because the two friends are regularly accompanied by good humor and comments that they are a pillow for each other on their races, usually of a humanitarian nature.
But perhaps the Croatian Ironaman’s story should be told from the beginning, from the shrapnel in his head that should have cost him his life, but it didn’t. “I didn’t know if I would survive; the doctor told my brother that I wouldn’t have survived if my body wasn’t physically strong,” says Igor.
He had all the predispositions for PTSD. For a moment, he will say that he does have it: “I’ve had restless dreams; in fact, I couldn’t even sleep. I went on a wartime military disability pension”. There was a thin line for Ivica to become one in the series of difficult stories of Croatian war heroes who developed PTSD. And then he decided – to walk.
“I wanted to relieve myself mentally, to shake my thoughts, so I walked, step by step,” he recalls. He could have sat down for a beer, two or three; he could have started gambling. But he simply walked. “I started testing my body, little by little, and the steps picked up pace and became running,” he tells the story of his humble beginnings.