Jasmin Bambur’s road to Beijing
Grand County resident Jasmin Bambur was a child in Bosnia when war broke out between it and Serbia. His father owned a ski resort in Bosnia that the communists took when the fighting started. The family fled to Serbia—his mother’s home country. But his parents knew that a war zone was no place for a child, so when he was 17, they arranged a foreign exchange program for him in America. Jasmin stayed until he was 18, and on his return to home, he was drafted in the Bosnian Army. There was no way either his parents would have him killing his mother’s people, so without his family, he returned to the United States, where he became a refugee with political asylum.
Ever since he was a child, Jasmin dreamed of going to the Olympics. Back in Serbia he’d excelled at team handball, a high-velocity sport in which two teams of seven players each pass a ball with the aim of throwing it into the goal of the other team. The team that scores the most goals in 30 minutes wins. As Jasmin’s wife, Sarah, told me, “Don’t quote me on this, but he always loved the scoring part. In all of the videos I’ve watched of him, he liked tricking the goalie and getting the ball in.“ At Middle Georgia College, where he studied sports medicine, Jasmin played handball with the dream of making the US national team.
That might have happened if it weren’t for the night he finished work late, drove home exhausted, drifted off at the wheel and crashed into a guard rail, his body flying out of the front windshield. Later, a truck driver reported seeing Jasmin’s body on the road, thinking it was a deer, and almost driving over it. But at the last second, he saw that it was a man, pulled over and called an ambulance.
Jasmin suffered a severed spinal cord. He’d become paralyzed from the belly button down, and for a time, believed that his life as an athlete was over. That only lasted until the nurse in his rehabilitation hospital started telling him stories of her husband, was also paralyzed but who did all manner of physically demanding things, from fishing to playing basketball to skiing and who did all manner of sports, from basketball to lacrosse to skiing. Once Jasmin learned that, there was no stopping him. He went out and took up basketball, tennis, lacrosse, and skiing.
“He was able to grasp skiing pretty quickly,” Sarah told me, while driving the couple’s two little girls to their own ski race in Telluride. “It took time for him to get comfy in his rig, but we lived in North Carolina, so we helped start an adaptive ski program at Beech Mountain. That led to Jasmin and Sarah skiing together—him in his sit ski and her assisting. It wasn’t easy at first—once he leaned down to adjust a fitting while on a chairlift and tumbled out of it. But in short order, he and Sarah were skiing together every weekend and racing against each other in NASTAR. And then, eight years after his injury, Jasmin came to NSCD at Winter Park to try his hand at bigger races.
“He won some medals right off the bat—NORAM or US Nationals,” said Sarah. “So then I was able to call the East Grand School District and I got a job teaching at Granby Elementary and we packed up that August.” Jasmin has been with NSCD for 18 years now, and his successes have been stunning. He competed in Sochi and now
he’s in Beijing, competing on the US Paralympic Ski Team in Giant Slalom and Slalom.
It’s been strange for him, and not entirely easy. Sarah told me. “He’s a little negative about China; he says it’s like jail. When I was FaceTiming him, guys in HAZMAT suits were spraying the common areas at the Olympic Village. He’s used to a huge party where everyone is hanging out and getting to know each other, but there you can’t go out, you can’t go anywhere.” Not that socializing is the most important thing if you make it on the world’s largest sports stage. “But it’s also hard for him to be away from his wife and three daughters,” says Sarah. “Even though he’s still driven to get medal.”
Jasmin raced yesterday in the Giant Slalom final (Sarah was unable to find his exact results but he said he did “very well”). And he’ll race again, in Giant Slalom on Sunday (races have been delayed due to warm weather). As a forever athlete ranked in the top tier in his events, Jasmin could make the podium.
It will be a long way from his childhood in Bosnia, and an inspiration for his own children, in Grand County.
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