This week's fit to teach takes a trip down memory lane. To the young swimmers of Hamilton Aquatics in Dubai 'Coach Sara' is a fantastic role model, who inspires them to keep progressing in the pool. However, turn the clock back ten years and it was an entire nation who was drawing inspiration from an unexpected hero, as she sensationally clinched an Olympic silver medal for Slovenia.
In August 2008 Isakovic traveled with the Slovenia swimming squad to the Olympic Games in Bejing, China. With the very best athletes in the world present, not many gave 20 year old Sara and Slovenia a chance. However, she had been building up a steady track record over the couple of years prior. She had racked up plenty of honours in the youth ranks and earlier that year triumphed at the European Championships in Eindhoven. Against all odds, she reached the final and finished runner up with the time of with the time of 1:54.97. To put that into perspective, only a world record time from Italian Federica Pellegrini denied her the ultimate prize.
Reflecting on the 10 year anniversary, Isakovic wrote on social media: "'And the winner of the Silver medal, with the time of 1.54.97, representing Slovenia…' The sound of the commentator’s voice, the feeling of getting up on the podium, the roar of the crowd was exactly how I imagined in my head (in bed) years beforehand. Couldn’t have done it without my coach and my most supportive family, but most importantly the mindset that got me to this point. I worked on it intentionally, I wasn’t born mentally tough. At the end, that was the difference maker."
She then provided some excellent advice for up and coming swimmers: "Younger swimmers out there – don’t be scared to dream big. You have one shot, so give it all you got. Believe in yourself and picture your goals even during the toughest times when things aren’t going your way. Trust the process and know that everything happens for a reason, even the ‘failures.’ Make sure you’re doing it for yourself and no one else, you have no ones expectations to fulfill nor to please anyone. It’s your career and you decide what you want to make of it. All you need to do is enjoy pushing yourselves to the limit and see what you’re capable of. It’s all a fun game, don’t take yourself too seriously- make sure you are having fun! If you work exceptionally hard your dreams WILL come true. The body, however, won’t get you there unless your mind truly sees it and believes it…please take that to heart."
Although representing Slovenia, most of Sara's childhood was spent in UAE. And for many young swimmers, who can access some of the state of the art facilities, it is a real eye opener to hear that when she made the move in 1997, it was tough to find somewhere to train.
In an interview with Gulf News, Isakovic said: "My family moved to Dubai when I was just nine years old. At that time I already had the goal that one day I wanted to be an Olympic champion. The problem was there was no available pool to train in. I can never thank Shaikh Mohammad enough for his generosity in making it possible for me to pursue my career. To this day I am grateful for the opportunity, because without it I couldn’t have made my dreams come true. Back in the day, Dubai was very different. Yet it already had the same philosophy of life that everything is possible."
Isakovic continued swimming for Slovenia until 2014 and has since graduated with a MA in Performance Psychology from University of California and returned to Dubai. Everyone at GYS thanks Sara for sharing her story and continuing to be an inspiration to our young athletes!