Angelika Uremovich’s view of sports can seem idealistic to many.
“I think sport is the universal language of the world,” the former college soccer star told me.
I met Uremovich on a partly-cloudy Saturday morning during the Revelstoke car show, after she had just finished coaching a soccer clinic for local youth. We sat outside at the Modern and talked about her soccer career and her involvement with Olympism for Humanity, an organization that hopes to “build a peaceful and better world” by fostering sports, culture and education.
Uremovich is a former member of the Canadian national U17 soccer team. Her playing career was derailed by injuries, but she still enjoyed three strong seasons at the University of Louisville. The daughter of two Croatian immigrants, she began playing soccer at a young age, coached by her father.
It was at the age of 12 she dedicated herself to the sport and the goal of making the Ontario provincial team. She was cut her first year but made it on her second try, eventually making it to the national team. Her efforts were featured in a CBC documentary called Girls of Summer.
“I saw this vision of playing for Canada and being on that world stage,” she said. “It also, I think, came from my love for my dad. I wanted to show and play for my parents because my parents were the most supportive people.”
Unfortunately, just before the team was about to head for a U17 World Cup qualifying tournament, she wrecked her knee, tearing her ACL, MCL, PCL and her hamstring. She thought she would make it back for the 2008 World Cup, but she was still in a straight-brace when it came around.
She opted out of surgery and was back on the field, getting ready for university, when she injured her knee a second time. She had to sit out the first year of her university soccer career. “The dream stayed alive but when I tore it again, it knocked a little out of me,” she said.
It took several years for Uremovich to get back to a high level of play, but in her fourth year at school, she scored nine goals and captained her team. That’s when she injured her knee a third time. Combined with a fractured vertebrae in her back, she decided it was time to hang up the cleats and focus her energy elsewhere.
She found direction through one of her professors, Dr. Alexis Lyras, the founder and president of Olympism for Humanity (O4H).
“He was my mentor throughout,” she said. “He really encouraged me and allowed me to see the power I had as a lover and competitor in sport.”
Uremovich became involved in O4H through Lyras. Her first experience was a trip to Botswana, where they were engaged at several schools and an orphanage.
O4H pulls its mission from the International Olympic Committee’s charter. “The goal of Olympism is to put sport at the service of a harmonious development of humankind with a view to promoting a peaceful society concerned with the preservation of human dignity,” it states.
For Uremovich, this means transferring skills she learned in sport – effort, teamwork, self respect, discipline, commitment and persistence – and teaching them to youth.
“We promote the continuation of Olympism for the world,” she said. “We’re teaching people in all kinds of communities how sport for development can work, and what it can do.”
Last fall, Uremovich took part in a conference in Qatar where they helped mentor coaches and teachers in Sudan and India. Right now, she’s in Greece for the O4H Summit. The conference brings together various stakeholders with the goal of spreading values of Olympism for use in development throughout the world.
Uremovich moved to Revelstoke last year, following in her brother Greg’s footsteps. She wants to implement programming here and throughout the Columbia Basin. She’s begun by involving herself with the Revelstoke Youth Soccer Association.
Of course, there’s still a part of her that wishes she were still playing competitive soccer as part of Team Canada at the Women’s World Cup.
“It turns a chord in my heart because it brings back a lot and it makes me wish that I had gone through and continued to play for Canada,” she said. “A lot of those girls have faced serious injuries and they are true heroes to fight through them. They are awesome leaders for Canada and for youth. To see them compete like that is inspiring.”
Find out more about Olympism for Humanity at o4h-alliance.org