– 8 June 2018
A young Croatian woman goes for gold in Australian football
Ana Barišić believes young people should follow their dreams, no matter how crazy they might be.
She is the first to admit that her dream to be a professional Australian football player probably qualifies.
But Ana, who lives in Zagreb, Croatia, is already on her way. She plays for a Croatian national team that competes yearly in an Australian Football European Cup. Her team, the ZKAN Zagreb Panthers, will soon be competing locally against an Australian team where she hopes to show off her skills to scouts as a forward and key goal scorer.
“Hopefully, that is my ticket for a dream come true,” she says.
For Ana, 20, pursuing a career as a professional ‘footy’ player might seem like an unlikely pursuit. She grew up at the SOS Children’s Village in Lekenik, Croatia, a small town near Zagreb made famous as the location for the 1971 Oscar-winning film ‘Fiddler on the Roof’. In Croatia, people are crazy about European football as opposed to the Australian version which is a mixture between football, rugby and even basketball.
Ana (far right) and her team. Photo: Filip Peric
Giving her best
From an early age, Ana’s SOS mother Marica Vnucek encouraged her to try everything - and try she did. From violin to taekwondo, if there was an opportunity to learn something Ana gave it her best.
“I wanted to do everything,” says Ana, with her exuberant smile. “Even if I was a little bit afraid to do something, I would still just for go it, because why not try it.”
Ana was not always such an outgoing person. The oldest of five siblings, Ana says as a child she was very shy and quiet - even scared. She believes she has forgotten a lot of what her life was like in her biological family as way to cope with the memories. Because Ana and her siblings were neglected, they were placed in alternative care at a young age.
In 2007, when she was nine, Ana arrived at the SOS Children’s Village Lekenik, which became the new home for her and her siblings. Timid at first, Ana slowly began to adapt to her new surroundings. She loved that there were so many other children to play with. A favourite memory is the marathon games of hide-and-seek where almost all the children in the village would join in for hours.
Ana and her SOS mother Marica. Photo: SOS Archives
The person she credits for developing her self-confidence is her SOS mother Marica. “My SOS mother was always supporting me,” Ana says. “I think that’s pretty much what an SOS mother should be, a parent.”
When she moved to the youth facility as part of her transition to an independent life, Ana wrote Marica an emotional letter telling her: “I don’t ever tell people you are my second mother, I say ‘You are my mother’.”
She is also grateful for the support of many educators at the youth facility, especially Youth Facility Leader Danica Gvojic who, she says, “always told me about great opportunities in life and pushed me to follow them”.
Believe in yourself
How Ana discovered Australian football was a bit of fluke. A friend who played on a team asked if she would pose in a team photo as they needed more players to fill the picture.
“My friend said, ‘Come on, stay for one training. You’re good at sports and you’ll have fun.’ I was like ‘Okay, it’s running and a ball, I like that.’ I’ve stayed ever since.”
Now in her second year of university in Zagreb, Ana recently was accepted for an Erasmus study programme in Paris where she will be from January to May 2019. On the football front, she and her Croatian team have many competitions ahead of them. She says they are going for a gold medal at this year’s Australian Football Euro Cup in Cork, Ireland. Once she finishes her third year of university, she hopes to continue her studies in Australia and pursue her dream.
Ana is definitely a person who motivates others. Her message to young people is one that has sustained her: believe in yourself.
“I tell them to find one person or something that makes them believe in themselves, because when you have trust in yourself, you really can do anything.”
More about our work in Croatia
Meet more women and men who grew up in an SOS family