Getting to know our athletes – Lena Gabršček (SLO)

Over the forthcoming weeks, PVE will be giving the spotlight to the key figures on the court: the players themselves.

Each paravolley athlete boasts a unique story to share. Through a series of interviews, we will have the opportunity to gain deeper insight into the experiences of some of Europe’s most distinguished paravolley athletes, as they guide us through their personal journey in the sport, expressing their passion for the game along the way.

After talking to Thibault Lefrancois from France, Francesca Bosio from Italy and Mirzet Duran from Bosnia Herzegovina, we continue “our journey” to Slovenia where we catch up with Lena Gabršček.

How did she get involved with sitting volleyball, was it “love at first sight” or not, what are her memories from her first paravolley tournaments – the answers to these questions and more in the interview below.

What was your first experience of sports, and sitting volleyball in particular?

I have always loved being active and doing all kinds of sports. In primary school, I had a super cool physical education teacher who believed in me and never gave me the feeling that I was somehow different from any other schoolmate. I tried many different sports, but my favourite was volleyball (maybe because my older sister also played it 😉). First, I played standing volleyball for the school team, then they invited me to join the local volleyball club, and after a while, I got another invitation: to join the sitting volleyball national team.

What made you decide to become a sitting volleyball athlete?

I have to admit that I wouldn’t say I liked sitting volleyball much in the beginning. I think I was 14 years old when I started practising with the national team, and all the team members were much older. Plus, being part of the para team meant admitting to myself and all others that I am disabled. Which was hard at first. So in the beginning, I played both – standing and sitting volleyball and enjoyed playing standing much more. But we got a new coach in a local club, and he was the first (and the last one, thankfully) person who told me straight to my face that my disability was a hindrance and that I should choose another sport. So standing volleyball suddenly became less enjoyable. And that is when I started to fall in love with sitting volleyball.

When did you start playing in ParaVolley Europe competitions, and what do you remember from your first competition?

My first competition was in 2009 – the European Championship in Elblag, Poland. I only had a couple of training sessions with the team before the competition. I remember that the team accepted me well, that we drove to Elblag for more than 20 hours in the van, and that we won a bronze medal.

What is your personal experience of sports as a professional para-athlete, and what does it mean to you?

Playing sports professionally in Slovenia means getting paid for being an athlete, which is not (and cannot imagine it ever will be) the case in our small country. We all work our regular jobs or study and try to spend as much time as possible playing sitting volleyball. Sometimes it is exhausting, and only those, who really enjoy playing it, stay active. As for me, I honestly cannot imagine my life without sitting volleyball. I love playing it and I hope it will always be part of my life.

What would you say is your biggest achievement?

If you had asked that question a couple of months ago, I would have said: being at the Paralympics in London 2012. But at the moment, I am most proud of our silver medal in the last European Championship in Caorle 2023. We are a very small country, and having such a strong parateam for so many years, is a miracle. We had ups and downs but in the last couple of years, we got a lot of new young players, built a great team, worked hard, and being a team captain of that team and leading them to the podium at the Europeans, meant the world to me. I know that this is not our final stop and that in 2024 we will do some more great things.

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