In the following interview, Gabriel Borisov from the St. St. Cyril and Methodius school in Simitli introduces us to Angela Alexieva, a former athlete of Roma origin from his town, who tells the story of her life and dedication to sport. Angela Alexieva is sixty-three years old. She grew up in a Roma family in the town of Simitli. She has been an athlete when she was very young and has participated in many racing competitions, winning many awards. Her story is one of love and dedication to sports, and never giving up.
Q: Where did your passion for sports start, Ms Alexieva? Can you tell us all from the start?
A: It all started when I was a sixth grader. I was a big fan of sports. My brother was a football player and my father loved to lift weights. Also, I was running very fast. Sports were always part of our family. The feeling of being full of energy and having sports in your blood is amazing! So, one day, while I was sitting at my desk in the classroom, teacher Angel Aikov paid us a visit. He enrolled us in a club with various sports available. I was wondering what I should chose as my main sport and after a while I decided on running. It was as if this sport attracted me and called for me. I decided to enroll in the running club. When I signed up, my teacher Aikov told me: “Girl, you were born to be an athlete, but the sport in which you excel the most is running! You are the best in it.” And my decision was final – I chose running!
Q: Who or what helped you and gave you strength to keep running?
A: I had friends, family and many relatives who supported me, but there was one person to whom I will always be grateful for guiding me on my path – my teacher Angel Aikov. I told you about him. He is a very good man, an inspirer. He always guided me, gave me advice and trained my perseverance. He was the one who supported me the most and I owe my success to him.
Q: Have you competed and won prizes, Ms Alexieva?
A: Of course! I took part in the Spartak Games in the town of Sandanski in the 800-meter race. I also took part in a race in the town of Yambol, near the Tundzha River, where I ran with the great athlete Vasilena Amzina. I ranked fourth in this one, and there were a lot of participants. I have also participated in 1,500-meter races, where I have ranked third, and many others. For these reasons, I feel very proud, especially of my Roma origin!
Q:Ms Alexieva, this is amazing! You mentioned that you are proud of your origins. Why?
A: I am proud of my origin because I achieved my goals, although they say that many Roma cannot be educated. I am an educated woman of Roma origin and I have achieved many of my dreams, which is why I am proud! It is not only me, but also many people of Roma origin who have achieved their dreams and are educated people with principles. That is why we should be proud of our origins, because we too have been taught values and culture.
Q: Have you ever had worries about your origin? As if you would not be accepted because you are of Roma origin?
A: It has never happened because I have not come across people who would judge me because of my origin. I have always been in the company of people who respect every race and ethnicity. We must love and respect each other, not look at race and ethnicity, because our time on this earth is running out fast and we must fill this time with love and happiness, not hatred and unhappiness.
Q: I agree with you. What were the difficulties that prevented you from continuing to compete?
A: Difficulties in life are trials for us. That’s why I didn’t give up being an athlete. I was in the ninth grade when I got gastritis, which stopped me for a time from doing sports. I went to various doctors and tried many treatments to eliminate this disease. It bothered me a lot, but I did not give up and found a treatment that soothed my pain. Then I decided to go back to sports and be an athlete. I did it! Despite all these difficulties, we must not give up and say that we cannot, because a battle rejected is a battle lost! Be strong perseverant and everything can be achieved!
Q: What can you tell us about the Roma at that time of your youth, about the old Roma traditions and customs that have remained in the past?
A: The customs and traditions of the Roma are great. We should be proud to have our own language, flag and anthem. The customs of that time, thank God, have survived to this day. Roma culture can never disappear. We always carry our tradition within us, with all of its holidays. For example, the holiday Bahtali Vasilitsa, or the “Roma New Year” is the time we reunite with family and relatives, showing love to them. Another important holiday is “Bari Bogoroditsa”. The custom then is associated with fertility, happiness and luck in every house. The traditional Roma wedding, which takes place for three days, sparks joy… And many more that give color to our community, as well as occasions for even greater happiness among the Roma. We are rich in culture and traditions, but we must remember that everyone is different and has their own culture and traditions.
Q: And what about the new generation? Is today’s Roma generation different from the previous one?
A: They are different than the previous generations. Today in the world of modernization, most of the young Roma are educated and have a great understanding of the world. I can say that there are many changes, because living in today’s world is different – with new ways of communication, cohesion and education. Today’s Roma are focused on being part of the world’s modernization.
Q: What would you tell all young Roma who want to practice sports?
A: Sport is energy and vitality. Never give it up, because it provides many benefits for us! Be persistent and do not give up, although it will be very difficult at times. This will pass and it will be worth it!
Q: Thank you for sharing your story with us! Always be lively and energetic, Ms Alexieva!