Mladen is running towards his dreams

How foster care changes the lives of children

Marina Knežević Barišić
mladi atletičar Mladen Ignac
UNICEF/Dimić
09 September 2019

“I will never give up running, not as long as my legs will carry me,” young athlete Mladen Ignac tells us. A teacher in Mladen’s secondary school discovered his athletic talent a year ago and suggested that he should continue to develop his ability in Međimurje Athletics Club, which Mladen did.

He has been training every single day since then, except Sunday. He sometimes has to get up at dawn to train, but he does not find it difficult at all. He says: “It has never happened that I don’t feel like it. I go to practice with a smile on my face every time, because I have loved running from day one. I have found myself in this sport.”

Mladen is also a diligent student in Čakovec Secondary School where he has recently been named as the best student amongst those training to become a nurse. Along with running, Mladen also likes dancing and acting. It is important, he says, to be well organised, especially since he often competes in races where he wins first or second place, which makes him very happy. Still, adds Mladen, victories are not the most important thing: “Winning is not that important. Running relaxes me, I get to meet new people, and I have made many new friends. I am happy to see that people like me, that I have their support, and that they believe in me.”

mladi atletičar Mladen Ignac na Mlijenoj stazi
UNICEF/Dimić

Everyone around Mladen is proud of him, especially his foster family Hoblaj. He became part of their family four years ago. Marina and Vlado have four children of their own to care for along with Mladen, his younger sister and younger brother. Mladen’s older brother was in foster care with the Hoblajs for eight years and, after he turned 18, he left the social welfare system, but remained living with them.

“Mladen keeps on winning; we are very happy that he has discovered his talent and that he is so committed and persistent. I see that what Mladen cherishes most are not victories, but the fact that his friends from the club accept him. It means a lot to him,” the proud foster caregiver Marina tells us. She admits that in the beginning they knew nothing about athletics: “We knew nothing about running. I even bought him a women’s pair of running leggings instead of men’s ones. There have been some funny situations, but we are all learning this together. We support him the best we can.”

UNICEF

Mladen appreciates the support he receives: “Aunt Marina and Uncle Vlado take me to the races, they pay my club fees, and they buy equipment; it is true that it is a bit expensive, but… Even their friends sometimes give me a surprise gift for training, and that means a lot to me.”

Mladen won second place in the 10 km category in UNICEF’s Milky Way Run. However, apart from his great talent and commitment, Mladen has also shown that he has a big heart. Ten-year-old Ema, a girl whom the Hoblajs have adopted recently, also ran in the Milky Way Run. When Ema fell, Mladen immediately went to her and carried her over the finishing line.

In terms of goals, Mladen has his dreams: “One day I would like to achieve something very big. I want to be a well-known athlete, like Bekele from Ethiopia. That is my goal. Of course, every athlete, every runner thinks about the Olympic Games, and so do I.”

In order to achieve his dreams, he says, he will put in as much effort, work, will and training as necessary. With the support of his family, coach and friends and his great love of the sport, there should be no doubt that Mladen can achieve great results and make his dream come true.