Serbian boxer Jelena exploring World with big picture in mind

Express News Service

NEW DELHI: The ongoing IBA World Championships is an assortment of cultures with boxers from different walks of life here with a common purpose to express themselves inside the ring. For Jelena Janicijevic of Serbia, it’s something similar but she also has a bigger picture in mind.

Coming from a region where women’s boxing is still in a nascent phase, Jelena, 38, is looking to lift the sport in her country.

“I’m trying to achieve a higher level of boxing so I can pass on the knowledge to youngsters. Me and my coach are co-owners of a gym (Belgrade). We are trying to understand what are the requirements at the international level (style of boxing, how to score points) and pass it on to the youngsters. My career will finish soon and I see myself as a coach. Serbia is still a patriarchal society and women are not encouraged to take up sports. I want to empower women, not only physically but also mentally and spiritually to understand that they can face any challenge and physical pain is nothing,” Jelena, who’s the first woman to win a medal at a major competition (European Championships), says.

Jelena took up boxing at a competitive level not so long ago in 2015 but she has been involved in combat sports for a long time. Her life-long journey to try new things has seen her dabble in multiple sports.

“Boxing is my fourth combat sport. I have been boxing since 2015 which is not long but I have been in martial arts since 2002. I’m a black belt in taekwondo. I was a European champion in kick-boxing and I had one professional fight in Muay Thai in Thailand,” Jelena, who’s the reigning WBO European champion (63.5kg), reveals.

The Balkan region has been hit by conflict several times. Jelena’s ancestors, who came from four ex-Yugoslavian countries, were constantly involved in wars. Growing up in that environment has handed her unreal strength, especially at a mental level. On Tuesday, she fought a hard fight in the 63kg category Round of 16 contest but that was not enough. But she remains unfazed.

“It was easy for me. It was tough for her,” she says with jest, adding, “I have no bruises or anything on my face.”The moment of defeat was a hard pill to swallow but she is grateful to get this opportunity. Having faced more pertinent issues in her life, she knows this is not the end of the world.

“I went to the States (USA) last summer, and people were avoiding me because they think I’m Russian. That’s not my fault, I’m born into this. Everything that happens to me I accept it with gratefulness. My loss today is supposed to teach me something that I didn’t know, that I need to correct. That’s why I’m very grateful,” the boxer, who enjoys her rakija (homemade brandy) every now and then, says.
Her willingness to embrace different ideas is also evident when she shares her experience in New Delhi so far. She’s happy to learn about a new culture.”People in India are completely opposite to all the stereotypes we have in Europe. In Europe, people think that people will con you but I have walked here in the streets all by myself and I felt completely safe. People told me it’s not safe but I’m Serbian and I’m not afraid of everything. During my lifetime, I have survived three wars. So I’m not afraid of anything. Thanks to this, I walked out and people only wanted to take pictures with me. Also, I got lost and people guided me back.”

Interestingly, she has a PhD in English literature. A highly-religious person, she also has a regular job (she is a project manager at a tech company in Belgrade) besides boxing and other activities. “I love to research things, people. Even though that does not benefit me in my career (regular work) at all. I love to do it in my free time, it makes your life richer, and you get a better perspective on people.”

Her run at the World Championships might have been cut short, but there’s no stopping someone like Jelena in her pursuit of a ‘richer’ life.

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