Changing the status quo comes naturally to some people. Ilma Kazazić, Mistral’s developer with an extraordinary life story, is one of them.
At the age of 23, Ilma is Bosnia and Herzegovina’s (BiH) most successful Paralympic alpine skier, having competed in the previous two Paralympic games and won numerous medals at prestigious European and world competitions. She is a graduate of the Faculty of Information Technologies in Mostar, a pianist, and one of BiH’s best athletes.
This is her story.
Nothing is Impossible
Ilma’s life has been anything but ordinary since the day she was born. During childbirth, a nerve in her knee was inadvertently damaged, and she was diagnosed with a mild form of cerebral palsy when she was three years old. Despite these challenges, from an early age Ilma was engaged in activities that she enjoyed. Not only did she take classes in rhythmic gymnastics and swimming, but she also graduated from an elementary music school for piano.
Ilma’s parents, Amela and Zlaja, worked hard to ensure that she grew into a healthy, confident, and strong woman, never dreaming that their child would become a world-class athlete.
Amela and Zlaja, like most parents, wanted their children to spend time outside, so they took Ilma and her sister to Igman, a beautiful Olympic mountain near Sarajevo. She fell in love with the slopes right away and couldn’t wait to try them out for herself. Her parents bravely responded to her request by purchasing her first pair of skis.
Ilma was four when she first started skiing. Although just a child, she had already shown talent, resilience, and a great passion for skiing. Her family wholeheartedly supported her in every step she made.
Since she couldn’t use the baby ski lift and couldn’t walk up the mountain on her own, her father carried her in his arms all the way up, all decked out in heavy skiing gear. When she conquered her first slope, he did it again. And again. And again. Ten years later, she became the first female alpine skier from Bosnia and Herzegovina to compete in the Paralympics.
The Call that Changed It All
Growing up, all Ilma cared about was spending her school breaks on the mountain. She never thought of herself as being any different from her peers. Then she got a call to compete in the Paralympics.
“I was 13 years old and had no idea about paralympic sports. Nonetheless, professor Senad Turković, a well-known coach and athlete, approached me and invited me to compete in a local competition on Bjelašnica, where I would try out the giant slalom gates. I was hesitant at first, but he convinced me in the end. Soon after, I found myself competing in my first international competition in Austria,” Ilma recalls.
From the moment he met her, Senad was awestruck by her boldness and her refusal to ever accept “No” as an answer. A former Paralympics competitor himself, Senad became Ilma’s her first coach, confident that all of Ilma’s competitions would lead her to the largest global competition for professional athletes. And he was right. She went on to compete in two consecutive Paralympic Winter Games as the sportswoman with the best results – first in Sochi in 2014, and then in Pyeongchang in 2018.
A Career Path She Always Desired
However, as much as Ilma loves and excels at skiing, her career path was focused on another world altogether: software development.
“I’ve known I wanted to be a software engineer since I was in elementary school. It was my first love; I participated in several informatics competitions, and even QBasic didn’t bore me. Skiing competitions were an afterthought, something that only came up when I was in high school. Nowadays, I combine the two, and I can’t imagine doing it any other way,” Ilma says.
When she joined Mistral, her team was blown away by the fact that they had an Olympic competitor in their midst, and they insisted she continue her training. That meant flexible working hours for Ilma, but she didn’t mind early morning workouts or late-night coding sessions.
With a rigorous training plan and admirable focus, Ilma trains in the winter on Jahorina and Bjelašnica (mountains near Sarajevo), and in the summer in Austria and other locations throughout Europe.
Unfavorable Odds and Unexpected Opportunities
The journey to achieving the benchmark for her third consecutive Paralympics, however, was not an easy one. With limited access to competitions and closed borders as a result of the global pandemic, as well as a serious shoulder injury, her chances of going to China in 2022 were slim. Not only that, but her equipment had worn out and needed to be replaced. Like anyone facing a small setback, she mentioned this challenge to her colleagues at Mistral. Although she had just wanted a sympathetic ear not a solution, just days later word came from management that the company would gladly cover all her equipment costs, including two pairs of new skis, for both disciplines in which she competes (slalom and giant slalom).
With new equipment in hand and the support of great doctors to help her recover from her injuries, Ilma again strapped on her skis and met the norms for an invitation to compete from the official International Olympic Committee!
This March, Ilma will proudly carry the Bosnia and Herzegovina flag and represent our country in this global competition for the third time. She travels to Beijing this Saturday, but before leaving for the Olympics, Ilma led our team in the Born2Ski competition on Bjelašnica. It was a fun ski descent and our way of sending her off with good vibes.
Godspeed and Good Luck, Ilma!
If you ask her, she’ll tell you she’s just getting started. In the long run, she hopes to raise awareness and influence the future of skiing in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Her ultimate goal is for any child, regardless of the cards life has dealt them, to have the opportunity to achieve the impossible.
Whatever the outcome of the Paralympics, one thing is certain: all 260 of us in the Mistral community believe Ilma is deserving of every gold medal out there. We are happy to be supporting her efforts to break down barriers, and we are honored to be a proud partner in her journey to conquer the next big competition in China.