Meet the Match

A Trailblazer in the Macedonian Sky

Silvija Mitevska has always been unique—the kind of person who thinks and acts outside the box. She recognized her natural inclinations as a girl coming from a small family in Skopje, Macedonia. This inclination led her to start paragliding at the age of 15, a sport in which she eventually rose to become one of the top female practitioners in the Balkan region. But when Silvija began competing and winning places on the podium, the rewards were not what she had expected for her years of hard work and sacrifice.

“I was always given dresses and flowers,” Silvija recalls. “That was nice. But I didn’t want a dress. I wanted a trophy like the men!”

Eventually, Silvija did receive a trophy in Bulgaria and proudly showed it to her friends and family. Many more trophies and accomplishments followed, including Paragliding World Cup victories in Slovenia and Italy in the early ‘2000s. More recently, Silvija had the honor of becoming the first female tandem pilot in Macedonia. Over the course of her career in paragliding, she met her husband, who has become an avid support of her when she competes inside and outside of the country. Silvija even introduced her 5-year-old son to paragliding.

“My son has flown tandem with me twice and after he landed the first time he was crying, ‘It was too short, I want to go again!’” Silvija laughs. “He knows all the members at the club and he even gives instructions to people about how to take off! He’s so proud that he brought a picture of me to kindergarten to share his experiences with his friends.”

Paragliding opened up Silvija’s world and gave her a thrill for life, as well as a drive in human rights advocacy. In 2004, she completed a master’s degree in physical education and sport management from The Saints Cyril and Methodius University of Skopje, where she is now completing a second master’s degree in human rights. Silvija believes the sport has the power to create a stronger, more independent, and determined generation of Macedonian women. Silvija is president and co-founder of Together Advancing Common Trust (TAKT), an NGO based in Macedonia that aims to bridge cultural divides and promote social and gender inequalities through sports and cultural activities. She has also worked for Doctors without Borders as a liaison officer and field agent, serving Syrian refugees entering Macedonia.

Despite Silvija’s success as a paraglider, women still make up only a small minority of extreme sports participants in the Balkan region. For the past 15 years, she has encouraged women to follow in her footsteps, but she still rarely sees another female on the mountain when she glides. Silvija attributed this to Macedonian women generally not receiving support from their families to pursue competitive sport. And with gender inequities in the workplace, women in the country find it difficult to take part as sport as a hobby.

“I feel really strongly that it is my responsibility to be a role model,” Silvija says. “With Ilina Arsova [a colleague and U.S. Department of State and espnW Global Sports Mentoring Program alumna from 2012] we’ve gone to high schools to advocate, talking to educators and parents and telling communities that girls deserve the chance to play sports. I want to show girls that even in a society like Macedonia that if you have the right support and make the right choices you can have the greatest job in the world.”

Through participating in the GSMP, Silvija hopes to learn new ways to develop creative advocacy and marketing strategies, as well as stronger partnerships with the government and private sectors. These efforts will help TAKT expand its impact in advocating for women’s sport from a local to a national level.

Susan Cohig, senior VP of business affairs and integrated marketing at the National Hockey League (NHL), is a strong match to support Silvija on her mission. As a three-time GSMP mentor, Susan has spearheaded efforts to elevate and support women’s hockey in the United States as well as promote equality for women in the sports sector worldwide. With her extensive experience across various marketing platforms—including film, television, and digital content— as well as her integral role in NHL business activities from the grassroots to the professional level, Susan is an invaluable source for Silvija. We are very excited for the potential of this dynamic partnership to bring new waves of empowerment to women in Macedonia and beyond.

Mentor Match