Jasmin Bambur, who competed for Serbia at the Vancovuer 2010 Paralympic Winter Games, hopes to make the cut for the 2014 U.S. Paralympic Team.
When a family gets split up by war, then family just gets pretty darn important.
It is why Paralympic mono-skier Jasmin Bambur, a top 10 finisher at the Vancouver 2010 Paralympic Winter Games for Serbia and now a Team USA hopeful for the Sochi 2014 Paralympic Games, passed up this year’s world championships in La Molina, Spain.
“Racing is fun and I’m dedicated to my team,” Bambur said. “But my family comes first.”
His wife, Sarah Bambur, is due to give birth to their second daughter the first week of March. The International Paralympic Committee (IPC) Alpine Skiing World Championships are being held from Feb. 18 to 28 — a little too close to delivery day for the Bamburs. The World Cup Finals are a week after that in Sochi, Russia.
Bambur’s withdrawal from the world team was just another example of the support he says that U.S. Paralympics, a division of the United States Olympic Committee, has given him as one of the new racers on the national team.
“Oh, yes, they definitely supported that. My coaches understand that family comes first,” Bambur said. “They are 100 percent behind every athlete.”
Bambur was just 12 years old when war conditions in Bosnia led his family to flee for survival. Now he is ranked No. 24 in the World Cup standings in giant slalom. He is also ranked among the IPC’s top 25 in slalom, giant slalom and super G. He was qualified for the world championships.
Bambur will still compete in the Wells Fargo Ski Cup, beginning March 1 in Winter Park, Colo., and the U.S. championships in late March in Park City, Utah. Those events will help carve a path for Bambur to Sochi, although it is the higher-level international competitions that will actually land Bambur a spot on the 2014 U.S. Paralympics Team.
“He had some great NorAm finishes early in the year. I think the more time he has competing against international competition, the better,” said Kevin Jardine, high performance director for U.S. Paralympic Alpine Skiing and Snowboarding. “We’re trying to give him more international experience. He always goes into the NorAms very confident and it’s a little bit different story when you get to compete against the rest of the world.”
Bambur has medaled four times this season at North America Cup (NorAm) events in Copper Mountain, Colo., and Winter Park. He won a silver medal in the slalom at Copper Mountain.
A native of Bosnia who was granted his U.S. citizenship in October 2010, not long after he became the first winter Paralympian in Serbia history, Bambur hopes to be one of the United States’ medal contenders in mono-skiing in super G and possibly also slalom in Sochi.
“It’s just that I can’t decide right now what events I’m going to be racing at,” Bambur said. “We all are fighting for five spots per event and there’s about 14 (U.S.) guys.”
“The difficult thing for male mono-skiers especially is we only get so many starts per discipline,” Jardine said. “Basically, he’s competing against the rest of our team at this point to earn those spots above other athletes on our team. We have so much depth on the male mono-ski side, it’s going to be a competition among themselves to see who the five people that get a spot are going to be per discipline.”
Skiers can begin to clinch spots for the Sochi Games by medaling in World Cup events next season. The entire U.S. team, Jardine said, will not be named until early February 2014.
Since joining the U.S. Paralympics program, Bambur has been helped by a number of USOC programs ranging from financial help to coaching to providing the specialized equipment that a mono-skier must have. He receives a monthly stipend that pays rent for his family and takes care of other bills. He received a new mono-ski in January after U.S. coaches discovered the one he was using was broken. Training benefits include skiing sessions, video sessions and time in the gym to work out. Athletes are also given skiing clothes and racing gear.
And then there is the constant work being done on the shock suspension, the piece of equipment that supports a sitting Paralympic skier.
“Our team has a great tech who actually does everything for us exactly the way you ask him,” Bambur said.
After a training session, instead of a skier having to adjust and tune the shock and skis, the shock technicians do that while the skiers instead concentrate on instruction, video sessions and working out.
“We have a pretty good-sized staff,” Jardine said. “All the coaches and staff are really a jack of all trades. We do have specific technicians in specific roles that everyone does, but we all chip in to make sure everything happens and gets done as smoothly as possible.”
When Bambur’s shock suspension broke in January, Jardine said, it was replaced with a U.S. Ski Team shock. The adjustment time for changing the equipment can be long, but the result is potentially faster times for Bambur.
The amount of an athlete’s stipend, Jardine said, is tied to an athlete’s performance.
“The better the (world) ranking is, the more money they receive,” Jardine said.
Additional help also comes in the way of individual sponsorships. Bambur is involved with the National Sports Center for the Disabled, which is also one of his sponsors. His other sponsors include High Fives Foundation, Challenge Athlete Foundation, Compass Rose Healing Arts, Rudy Project, Leki Gloves and Appalachian Smoke Meat.
Even before Bambur became a citizen in 2010 through political asylum, there was a connection with U.S. skiers that he appreciated.
“Ever since I started in 2007, the U.S. always helped me with anything I needed at the race,” Bambur said. “The guys I trained with, they were all U.S. Ski Team members. So for me, it wasn’t really a big change (in 2010). Just the fact I lived in the United States for so long, I wanted to race for the U.S.”
Bambur’s Paralympic life has landed him in a much different place than he was 17 years ago. When he was just 12 years old, his family fled Bosnia because of war and went to Kosovo. When more war in Serbia and Kosovo caused dangerous situations, Bambur’s father, Dzafer Bambur, located a home in the United States for Jasmin through a high school foreign exchange program.
“My dad was like, ‘You’ve got to leave. You can’t stay here,’” said Jasmin Bambur, now 33.
A talented team handball player, Bambur wound up in Georgia and went to Middle Georgia College after finishing his senior year of high school. It was in Georgia that a car accident near Macon seriously injured him in 2000. The result was a severe spinal cord injury requiring nearly a year of rehabilitation at the Shepherd Center in Atlanta, Ga.
His parents, Dzafer and Miljana, and his brother, Ismark, and family now live in Matthews, N.C. Many cousins and relatives still reside in Europe. Sarah and Jasmin Bambur moved to Winter Park, Colo., five years ago as Jasmin’s mono-skiing career took off. Their first daughter, Lejla, was born in 2010.