Persistent Paralympics Skier a Role Model for Many

Total Croatia News

Toni Bošnjaković.jpg
Source: Toni Bošnjaković

Skier Lovro Dokić and Nordic skier Antun Toni Bošnjaković are set to travel to the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang after an invitation by the International Paralympics Committee. But behind this news item are human stories and entire movie scripts

The life of Toni Bošnjaković, 33-year-old graphic designer, employee of Sportske Novosti sports daily, is truly a movie script. In April of 2014, he fell under a train in Austria and lost both of his legs below the knees. Such a tragedy would derail many, but not Toni, who seemed to have only then begun to live a full life. Since then, he has become an idol to many, an urban hero, although he dismisses such claims and promotes people such as Josip Zima, his teammate in the ski team, whom he believes deserves more media coverage, as Sportske Novosti reported on February 8, 2018.

Persistent as a mule, he decided that he must eventually be part of the Paralympics. Summer, winter, any sports, it did not matter. And if he can choose, he would rather do it sooner than later.

Toni had already tried for the Paralympics in Rio, trained in running, built prostheses such as Pistorius, swam, rode the bike… Later on he bonded it all into triathlon, from which something completely different came about, although, very similar – ski running. Although he arrived to it in his own , special manner. Through shooting disciplines.

“I began shooting with Tomo Lazić, selector of the parashooting team and coach of Valentina Gustin, who had been to Rio three times. He said I had potential, but am too edgy for shooting. Then we had the idea to try biathlon.” But biathlon, besides a rifle, requires skis, and skiing knowledge as well, which Toni – did not have.

“Of course I did not know how to ski, but of course I said I would learn. And standing up, although everyone told me I wouldn’t be able to. The Croatian Paralympics Committee sent me to Poland last February, to a camp, and I was satisfactory there, but what’s more important, I fell in love with skiing. I mounted skis there for the first time in my life, the sport bore no interest to me beforehand, I thought it was too expensive.”

And so it began. “Our federation signed me up for the World Cup, and I was in on the development program quota. There were many nations at the camp, 25, all from the development program. But I must say I would not see Pyeongchang if the Russians were not banned from the Paralympics. They opened up 10-15 spots and those invitations were given to us, athletes from the development program. I reached the norm, but it still did not mean anything. A lot of help came from Dimitrije Lazarovski, former Serbian skier, now President of the Winter World Paralympic Committee. That man did so much for us.”

Toni Bošnjaković.jpg

Joining Toni in the Nordic Paralympic expedition is: “Josip Zima, he qualified ahead of me, in Ukraine, over a year ago. His competition is seated skiing. He is in a wheelchair, but knows no limits, a year ago he had his second child. At 19 he fell of a balcony, just ahead of his wedding, and was paralyzed from the heart down. We are being led by Dado Katunar, we lost Marko Čanić to a job he took two months before camp. We are doing well, it’s going great. I can boast of being the best paranordic standing skier among the Austrians, and we know what a skiing nation they are.”

Toni is still not certain which disciplines he will compete in Pyeongchang. “Probably at 10km, that’s the medium distance, and in sprint, that’s 1.200 meters. But the ultimate goal are the longest distances and stamina is my forte. But I am still not ready for the 20 kilometer race.”

Back to the beginnings. In skiing for only a year, how much of that has he actually spent on snow? “Well, around a month, maybe a few days more. With the help of the Croatian Biathlon Federation I Trained in Slovenia, Germany, last year in Poland, we went twice to Gorski Kotar for quite a few days… But now I have my own car, so it’s easy to pack stuff and go anywhere. My advantage is that I am in compatible sports, so the only issue was of technical nature.”

The original idea was to be at the Rio Paralympics. “I had said that my goal was to be at the Paralympics and that I would do anything to achieve that. And I did, and after this I will be in the Paralympics program, have access to new things, vitamins, equipment, preparation, medical care. Only an injury can stop me. I believed in myself, I believed in that and it came true.”

What did his first ski attempts look like? “Funny, I kept falling. Well, I still fall, in Germany at the qualifications I fell probably a hundred times, but what can you do. You get up, move on, fall, get up again, move on… Argentinean coach and former Paralympics participant Pablo Robledo helped me very unselflessly. Two German coaches, Michael Huhn and Simon Schmidt worked a lot with me, showed me the technique, waxed my skies before the competition, which meant a lot to me. They said it would be great to work with me as I learn fast and have high motivation, and plenty of strength. We got along great.”


Toni added skiing on rollerblades to his summer practices. “That became my classic summer practice, skis on rollerblades, this advanced my technique greatly. I learn each day, we improvise a lot as we don’t have expert coaches. But that makes advances greater; when I adopt a technique, results can be seen right away.”

Restless in spirit, Toni took a while to find his sport. Has he finally settled now? “This is it, all the questions now have answers. Skiing and biathlon, and during the summer triathlon, swimming, cycling and running.”

Besides persistent, Toni is also direct and honest. “Let’s be sincere, I am off to Pyeongchang to gain experience, there are no ultimatums. But in Tokyo I have to be competitive. I want to compete in triathlon and cycling, but I must set a standard and go for top results. I need a basis to always be ready in those sports, and then depending which competition comes first, train for the sport I plan on competing in. I believe I can do that.”

He is a member of several sports clubs. “Triathlon Club Swibir, Cycling Club Dinamo and Athletic Club Ulix, Bosut from Vinkovci and Disabled Athletes Club Agram.” And skiing? “We don’t have a club in Croatia, yet to be founded.

It doesn’t matter there is no club, of that Nordic Paralympic skiing does not exist in Croatia, Toni does not find this an obstacle. He made his way to his first Paralympic Games. First, because knowing him, they won’t be his last.

As a cherry on top, Toni Bošnjaković won another great victory – last Monday his son Vinko was born. The kid rushed two months early, but he’s Toni’s son, so he has to be special. And persistent, as if he decided to set his own birthday, no one could stop him. Daddy’s boy.

Translated from Sportske Novosti.


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