Dejan Zafirov has not let his disability get in the way of his passion for sport. This 33 year-old Macedonian, an above-knee leg amputee, completed a 4000-kilometer cycling trip through China in April 2011. He also works to further the positive relationship between disability and sport. Through his association, Gaia, he has raised funds and assembled a team of volunteers to create a summer sports camp for 11 young people with disabilities in Struga, on the shore of Lake Ohrid. He created this citizens association to offer positive changes for physically disabled teenagers, giving them the choice to do recreational, social and sport activities. In other words he is creating a positive culture for the disabled.
Sports have played a major role in Dejan Zafirov’s life since the age of 15, mostly swimming, running and cycling. Five years ago he had an accident that led to the amputation of his right leg. However, it never crossed his mind to give up sports. Rather, it made him more focused on finding ways to continue exercising despite his disability.
"It's not easy because in most people's mind, being physically disabled means you should
adapt to your handicap and make your choices for life on the basis on your handicap, instead of trying to live as any other person. There is no real effort to analyse what people's capacities and limits are with a handicap." Learning to walk again was hard but, step by step, with physiotherapy and hard work, Zafirov began walking, then playing basketball, and then cycling. The whole process took him about two years.
From China to Struga
Zafirov believes that maintaining good physical health through exercise is a weapon against the pain he can feel as his body has had to readapt and relearn how to balance with an artificial leg: “For people with physical limitations, sports, or any kind of physical activity, take on another dimension. It's important to be in good health, but it is also a symbol of independence and a way of life."
This is Dejan Zafirov's motto, which he follows in order to further the independence he enjoys. Zafirov’s goal is to share his experience and show other disabled people that they can make similar choices.
This spring, Zafirov cycled solo from Hong Kong to the Chinese capital Beijing, a trip which covered 4,000 kilometres and took 45 days. "It was an intense experience, and as I can't understand Chinese language, I needed a lot of improvisation to find my way, food, or a place to stay." This journey had a message as well. "Many people simply don't believe this is possible, even for someone who isn’t disabled". Dejan's ambition is to have more of an influence in this regard in his country, in order to extend possibilities for people with a physical handicap.
After the journey, Zafikov set up a sports camp for children and young adults with handicaps in Štip, his home town, with the help of friends and volunteers. He did this in the space of only two months. He gathered a group of 11 children, teenagers and young adults, from 10 to 21 years old. During the camp, 15 volunteers were present to assist the participants with their daily needs. As Zafirov says, “It is one thing to see someone cycling through China, but it is another thing to try to cycle by yourself, or play frisbee or football, or anything. The idea is to show disabled young people how to achieve their independence.
“There is no tradition of organising camps for people with physical handicaps in Macedonia. Parents were quite reserved when they saw our team, made up of young people who mostly did not have experience in dealing with disabled people. But when they allowed their children to attend and when the ice broke, we really earned their trust”, said Zafirov. The camp programme included a poetry session, jewellery making, ceramics, getting to know the city of Struga, and, naturally, physical exercise. As the camp is located on the shores of Lake Ohrid, the campers also had the opportunity to swim. At the end of the camp, all participants said they wanted to come back next year.