Croatian table tennis player Sandra Paovic is less than 40 days’ away from her long awaited Paralympic Games debut.
Perhaps the biggest stress in the lead-up to September’s Games was not maintaining her No. 1 status, but rather completing her university degree in Zagreb.
The 2014 world champion wrote her last exam around early June in a programme she hopes will continue to open doors in the sporting world.
“After my accident I was not sure how to go on because at that time I didn't think I could play table tennis again,” Paovic said. “So, I got a chance to be sponsored to study sport management in a private university and it seemed like something interesting.”
The former Olympian competed at Beijing 2008 before she was involved in a life-threatening car accident in January 2009. It was not until 2013 when she picked up Para table tennis, and since then has worked her way to become the gold medal favourite in the women’s class 6.
To accomplish both her degree and Rio 2016 qualification was not an individual matter.
“It is not always easy to balance school and training, but organisation and will are very important,” Paovic said. “My husband Daniel [Lazov, men’s class 1 player] and I train together every day; sometimes together and sometimes just at the same place and time. I have the table tennis experience and knowledge, but Daniel really helps to keep me motivated.”
Paovic has been ranked No. 1 in class 6 for over two years. As a two-time European champion and world champion, she heads into Rio as one to watch.
Although she has never competed in a Paralympic Games, she holds 18 years of experience in table tennis to know how to handle pressure.
“I had plenty of experiences from other major events. So although Rio will be my first Paralympics, competing at a high level is routine for me,” Paovic said. “I expect to continue performing at a high level and to do my best.”
In the lead up to Rio 2016, Paovic took singles gold at both the 13th Slovenian Open and the Lignano Master Open this year.
During the month of May, she was tied up with her final exams and received her results around mid-July, saying she received good grades.
With her degree, she hopes to work with youths in table tennis and said she is interested in more direct contact with athletes.
But her focus has turned back to Rio.
“Sandra is a big favourite to win a Paralympic gold medal, this is what she is missing in her great career. We hope she will make it in Rio, she deserves it,” said her coach Natasa Skocilovic.
Sport fans from around the world can now buy their Paralympic tickets for Rio 2016 from authorised ticket resellers (ATRs)
The IPC’s Global ATR is Jet Set Sports, and Rio 2016 tickets and packages can be purchased on the CoSport website.
Residents of Brazil can buy 2016 Paralympics tickets directly from the Rio 2016 website.
Visa International is the exclusive payment card and the official payment system for the Paralympic Games.