Meet the Match
A Political Leader Committed to the Paralympic Movement
Sports were never a big priority in Njomza’s family. Raised in Kosovo’s capital and largest city, Pristina (then a part of Serbia), Njomza grew up as the sixth-born of eight siblings. Her brother practiced judo for a short time, but her parents pulled him fearing their only son might get injured.
Instead of sports, Njomza was on the pathway to politics. While completing a bachelor’s degree in sociology from the University of Pristina, she worked for several years in the human rights sector focusing on the rights of women, youth, and disabled people. After five months as a researcher and coordinator for the NGO Handicap Kosovo, she joined the New Kosovo Alliance political party and by 2008 was elected as the youngest Parliamentarian in the country.
Njomza served as the vice president of the Committee on Health, Labour and Social Welfare, and is now the head of the Committee on European Union Integration. In 2011, she was also appointed as president of the Kosovo Paralympic Committee, making her the only woman in Kosovo working in a sports leadership role.
“I was very surprised when I got the job because I’m not an athlete,” Njomza says. “When I go to meetings I am the only woman, which is very challenging. But they knew I had experience helping people with disabilities and we have many athletes and women with disabilities in our country. I work hard so that we can involve them in decision-making.”
Paralympics is still a new concept in Kosovo, but with the support of the Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sport, as well as private sponsors, Njomza is working to organize sports events and activities to engage the disability community and promote adaptive sports. The KPC, which applied for membership to the International Paralympic Committee, hosted a three-day Mini-Paralympics in June 2016 with more than 500 participants from 25 cities. It is Njomza’s vision that this will continue to give exposure to rising athletes and push for greater inclusion of disabled people in communities that still hold stigmas.
“A disability can happen to anyone,” Njomza says. “If I get into an accident while driving, I can have a disability. We cannot ignore people with disabilities or be ashamed of them. We want them to be successful and to bring recognition back to Kosovo when they compete at the international level.”
John Register, associate director of community and veterans programs for U.S. Paralympics (a division of the U.S. Olympic Committee), understands Njomza’s position and motivation for creating a platform for elite-level athletes with disabilities. John had a serious injury while training in the U.S. Army’s World Class Athlete program and had to have his left leg amputated above the knee. However, he came back from the injury to compete in two Paralympic Games and launched a highly successful career as a motivational speaker and program developer. John helped expose Njomza to life at one of the most successful Olympic committees in the world and provided her with the tools to improve the quality of disability sport in Kosovo, collaborate with sponsors and other sports federations, and develop programs that include more women and youth. Through this mentorship experience, Njomza returned to her country with clear ideas as to how she can elevate Paralympic sports and help her athletes reach the podium in order to inspire generations of young Kosovars.Read the Blog Article