One of the reasons why I started writing about Albanian athletes, well mostly football players, was to introduce them to both Albanians but also non-Albanians. I have followed the career paths and written about thousands of them. One guy that really inspired me I had the honor to meet for an actual interview. What makes him stand out from the rest of the crowd? As a young teenager he started losing his eyesight but that did not stop him and now Fatmir Seremeti is off to Rio for the second time to represent Sweden in a sport called goalball.
We met up at FIFH Malmö’s facility which stands for the association of sport and disability. As I walked through the long hallways while looking at the trophy cabinets I heard voices. Laughing. Felt the joy surrounding me as I approached the reception. I could not help but to feel the kindness while I was waiting for Fatmir. Even though the people there was not aware of who I was they treated me like a family remember right away while striking a conversation over a cup of coffee.
Fatmir showed up shortly after and I was quickly greeted by his curious dog Gibson. This
was the third time I encountered Fatmir. I remember the previous time very vividly, telling the group of students about his background. He was born in Kosovo just outside the city of Vushtrri, a city which has raised several Albanian football players but moved to Sweden at when he was nine. He was just like any other active kid. Played football, judo and so on. At the age of 14 he started losing his eyesight and within two years he had lost 80 % of his vision. It was a huge readjustment for him and his family.
“We fight, win and lose together”.
Why goalball? “They forced me to participate in a camp in Stockholm which I reluctantly tagged along to“ he explained. ”I tried many sports and immediately got hooked on goalball. It was action filled and since I’ve always been good with almost every ball sport this came naturally to me. The best part about goalball is the fact that it is a team sport.
Fatmir was only 19 when he first won a medal, a golden one. This was the World Champion title back in 2002 which was played in Rio de Janeiro. Back then he had a slightly better vision so while there he got to fulfill another of his dream, to see football in Brazil. He got to witness the cross-town derby between Flamengo and Fluminense but also meet the players. Now he’s off to Rio once again. From September 7th he will represent Sweden’s goalball team in the 2016 Paralympics and what’s different from last time he was in Brazil? “Now it’s more focus on the game. Back then I was so mesmerized by the atmosphere and everything going on that it was hard to concentrate on the game but now I know what to expect”.
Fatmir has won:
- The domestic league 12 times
- 5 Europe Cup gold medals
- 3 European Championship bronze medals
- 1 World Championship gold medal
- 1 Paralympic bronze medal
Most of us will never get the opportunity to win a medal or receive an award. What is it like? “It’s hard to explain that feeling. Standing on top of the podium, knowing you’re the world’s greatest. Hearing the national anthem and people cheering. You fell calm, peaceful but happy too at the same time knowing that all the hard work, it was all worth it”.
One thing that I, and a lot of his fans, admire a lot about Fatmir is his drive and motivation. “I love winning and has always been very competitive”. This one time he and his siblings had a huge fight during a Monopoly game which ended with a trip to the hospital. He is certain that you must be very competitive to succeed within elite sports. Despite not having full vision he is always active. He comes across as a person that easily can climb over any obstacle. “Anything is possible, it just takes planning” he said referring to the fact that he for example can’t go out for a run without planning carefully because he needs someone with him.
“Don’t give up. Life goes on”.
His drive is what has taken him to where he is today and made him a role model to a lot of people. He recently came back from a knee injury and his fighting spirits does not go unnoticed. I asked him what he would’ve said to a younger teen with a similar situation like Fatmir encountered. He stated that people should encourage them to reach out. “Find a hobby or something that makes them want to get up in the morning. Sport was my rescue”.
Throughout the years goalball and any other sport for people with disabilities has caught more of media’s attention. The reason has been their success but also the fact that they are more active on social media. Fatmir admits that Kosovo still has a long way to go on that aspect. “The main difference between Swedes and Albanians in Kosovo is how they view us. I’m independent and can take care of myself whereas the people in Kosovo would grab me by the arm and guide me”. He also adds that they slowly are getting there. Just last month when Malmö arranged Malmö Open KG Peja’s goalball team, from Kosovo, was there to participate. In 2008, right after winning the Paralympics bronze, his brother Florim took over as the head coach of Sweden’s team. The two brothers gathered some friends and traveled to Kosovo. They had seminaries to inform people in Kosovo about sports for people with disabilities but also introduced them to goalball.
How is it played? You play in team of three, one center and two wingers, on a surface which equals the size of a volleyball pitch. The mission is to get the ball over the goal line. The lines are marked extra high for the players to feel the lines. Players must wear blinds folds/glasses but also knee and elbow pads to decrease injuries. The ball has a bell built in it so players can hear it.
When discussing football he lists the local team Malmö FF as his favorite one alongside Premier League side Arsenal. Albania’s chances in the Euro Cup this summer? “It’s not going to be easy”. Being a huge fan of football, as he played it in his younger age, he is thrilled to have his two sons play the sport whereas his daughter is active in judo.
Favorite Albanian player: “Arber Zeneli (Hereenveen) – he’s my cousin!”
The thought of him ending the goal ball career has crossed his mind. The World Cup is played two years from now and Fatmir expresses his desire to have Sweden as a hosting nation “it would mean a lot to win at home turf. Not to mention the fact that it would raise more awareness and attract more spectators at our games“. Before leaving I asked him if he had room for more medals. “There’s always room for more medals” he said laughing.
/ Kosovare Mezini writing from Malmö, Sweden.