We talked to one of the most outstanding handball players in the history of the Ferencvárosi TC, the Olympic bronze and silver medalist, European champion, six-time Hungarian champion, a seven-time Cup-winner Ildikó Pádár on the occasion of The European Day of Care project.
The European Day of Care is a project co-funded by the Erasmus+ Sport Programm of the European Union, an international extension of the initiative of our Club, launched in 2015 to raise awareness of the challenges of transitioning from a professional sports career to civil life, in partnership with other European sports clubs, such as Lazio Basket, Sporting Foundation, HASK Mladost and Tampereen Pyrinto, to share inspiring stories where the transition was successful. Pádár, or as the fans called him, Panther played for our club for sixteen years, and after her active career she became part of the youth coaching team of Ferencváros Handball section.
- Some people believe that professional athletes miss out a lot of experiences that other young people experience in their twenties.
- I don't think I missed out anything from my life just because I chose handball as my job. Obviously, I spent a bit less time with my friends, not going to cinema or theater every week, and yet gained experiences that I could not have experienced in other jobs. Sport has blessed me with feelings and experiences in my career that I would not have received elsewhere. Being an athlete requires a full human being, as the summer break is often missed and there is not much time to relax. In the middle of the year we were several times interested in the Olympics, then in the winter followed by the international competitions. I'm not saying that I had a lot of free time, but if I could, I learned, read a lot, and improved myself.
- How much did you spend on your after-sport future during your active career?
- When I got to Fradi at the age of seventeen, I didn't even think about it, and for many years, I was only living for handball. Then, as I got older, I became more and more involved in this matter. Two years before the end of my career, I knew I was about to retire because I was struggling with health problems, so I knew it was time to find my way. My teammate, Éva Szarka, invited me to go to the University of Physical Education and study with her as a coach. Although I was initially afraid of it because I couldn't imagine myself as a trainer, I still decided to start. After a few years, I can say that I am very pleased to have chosen this.
- What kind of support did you get back then from your friends or even from the Handball Federation?
- When I started the University, the head of the handball department told me that I would later have the opportunity to train kids, which I was always very interested in. I'm happy to have this opportunity with my team, and I really enjoy working with kids. I have always thought that they should focus primarily on learning, and that sport should only be second on the list. An injury or a major change in our lives can come at any time, so it's important that young people perform well at school.
- How did you say goodbye to professional sports? Was it difficult to switch to civilian life afterwards?
- I gradually and consciously prepared myself for this shift. Then my final year and its final match was very emotional. The cold ran down on my back the last time I ran out to the parquet floor: "Is this really the last time? Then what’s coming next?" I decided to finish my active career quite in advance, so it wasn't difficult because of the timing. Many people have helped me to get things right in my new job. There were some who only said one or two kind words, but they also provided support. That's why I wanted to participate in this project, to help the next generation. It's important for everyone to realize that life is not just about sports.
- Why do you think such a lifestyle change is difficult for athletes?
- It is very difficult for a person to break away from what she/he has been doing and loving since childhood. Until my retirement I worked exclusively as a handball player. However, it was a great relief for me to remain an integral part of my beloved sport. This made it a lot easier for me as it is not only my job but also my hobby. I understand that it is much tougher for those who can't return to the sport industry later on. They need to believe that they have experiences that can help others, and they are very valuable members of society.
- What would you advise young athletes how to build their personality, character?
- It may sound strange, but reading was a big influence on me. At school, I didn't like compulsory reading, and as a player, we once received book vouchers and that is where the passion began. We traveled a lot, so I could spend this time usefully reading. I'm an omnivore, I love crime, adventure novels, but my big favorite is Paulo Coelho. There is a guide to climbing, which is about getting from the bottom of the mountain to the summit. In fact, athletes are most interested in this topic, so I was quickly caught.
- Where do you think you are on your own mountain?
- I started from the very basics. I come from a small village, Kömlő. When I was a kid, I wouldn't have thought about becoming a professional athlete at all, let alone achieving such high-profile titles. I am grateful that I have achieved so much in my career. I think a lot of people would envy the prizes we won together with my old teammates in both the national team and Fradi.
„I have never wanted to mix my sports background and the civilian life!”
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