Andrea Lekic knows what it takes. The Serbian lifted the EHF Champions League trophy in 2013 and has been an ever-present force of the finest floors of European handball for well over a decade. The centre back’s journey to the top started at Krim and now that she’s back in Slovenia again what better time for her to reflect on her career than in her own words in our latest This is Me story. From those early days in Belgrade to winning the IHF World Player of the Year award, Andrea tells us just how special it has been to play the sport she loves so much.
LOVE AT FIRST SIGHT
Handball is a dynamic sport full of adrenaline. That is why I chose it. It was love at first sight. I used to play karate, volleyball and tennis but there was something special about handball. My father had a friend whose daughter was playing handball and I started going with her to the training. I was 10 at the time. Now, 24 years later, I still have that same passion for this sport.
My handball path started in ORK Beograd where I spent most of my youth but the first step on the bigger scene was in Radnički and later in Knjaz Miloš. At the time, I never thought that will be my last time playing in the Serbian league. Playing in Knjaz Miloš has a special place in my heart.
I gained great experience and won the first title, both mine and the club’s. That last season was a challenging on. The club had financial problems but it showed me that with a team spirit and friendship you can achieve big things.
Friends and family are the most important in your life. With great support, you can achieve more than you could think of. Life in sport is not an easy one but it has so many positive things. I would always choose this path again if I would have a chance.
People tend to say you miss out; but I see it like we all gained something different during growing up. I am lucky that I have amazing people surrounding me, always putting a smile on my face. Through all beautiful and not so beautiful situations, it is important to have that kind of selfless support.
That’s why my family had the biggest influence on me while I was growing up. My most memorable time was when I decided it’s time to leave my town, my country, my friends and family. That kind of support and belief in me was something that gives you additional strength.
Leaving Knjaz Miloš and joining Krim Mercator was one of the biggest turning points in my career. Handball in Serbia at the time was not even close to handball in Europe. I left at 19 and didn’t even know what to expect. The only thing that was pushing me forward was my wish for success. That urge still drives me to this day.
During my first year abroad, I had a lot of ups and downs. I was not the same Andrea that was playing in Serbia. It was my first EHF Champions League experience, and a new style of handball. I remember I questioned myself a lot. Am I good enough for this? Am I ready for this? Can I do it?
After that first season, I told myself to work even harder, to push my own limits. And I succeeded. All the success I achieved in my career came after that. I still take those years in Krim as a synonym for psychological and playing maturing.
I became tougher, persistent and it showed me that I can do everything if I believe it. Experience from every other club that I played for later, years in Skopje with Vardar, Bucharesti, Budućnost and matches with Serbia national team, were upgrading that.
It was hard to leave Krim after everything and say goodbye. My next stop was Győr. The club that had many great players and hunger for the titles. At the time I know it is a good decision that will make my dreams come true. Győr will be written with gold letters as it resulted in my biggest club success in my career. That 2013 was a magical year.
I won a lot of trophies, domestic leagues and cups and individual awards but everything always comes back to that 2013. Győr played well all season and the crown was the EHF Champions League final against Larvik HK. Two top matches in May 2013 and everything set to its place. After the first win by three goals, we managed to win again by one in the rematch. The feeling was indescribable. I still find it hard to find words. It was reward for all the hard work we’d done and we got to raise EHF Champions League title on Hungarian ground. At the end of the year, it was time for Serbia national team.
Somehow it all started with the national team. Playing for your country is a special. A feeling that can’t be easily described. I still remember the first time I was invited to join senior national team. I was on the backup list and I got a call. We were led by Mile Isaković at the time. I remember I was sitting surrounded by my family completely shocked. I even didn’t know what to pack or what I needed. That feeling never faded away during years I played for my national team.
It still gives me chills when I look back on the IHF World Championship and silver medal we won. It was the biggest national team achievement and we made it happen in front of our own fans in Belgrade. We brought back women’s handball into the spotlight. I think that is something everyone will cherish forever. An only unfulfilled dream that I had was going to the Olympic Games.
For me, handball is inexhaustible motivation. I’m still hungry for new successes and wins. That’s why playing in the EHF Champions League is so special Each match, each season is a new challenge. I want to get better. What I learned after all these years in top handball is that you have to work hard every day. The longer you are at the top, it’s harder to remain there. You have to push your limit.
I maintained constant no matter the obstacles that were in my way. Injuries are part of that too. There is no sport without them and they are extremely hard. On some other level, they bolster you, push you to respect sport, even more, to respect yourself, the process of getting better. You learn how to take care of yourself better and have respect for your health. All that hard work just to get back on that marvellous 40×20 court and to feel the ball in your hands again.
But as I said, handball is not all about winning, losing and trophies. It’s about friendship and support you get on your way. Friends and all people I met on this handball journey are the biggest treasure I have. That is one of the most important things you get from sport.
All that is why our sport is so special and why I loved it so much in the first place. And I think I’ll probably never leave it. I see myself in sport and handball after my professional career too. I feel great working in sport and it’s something that comes naturally to me. I’m already part of many projects when it comes to working with children and their development, including the EHF’s Respect Your Talent programme.
It’s our obligation as experienced players to pass our knowledge to younger generations. I already try to do that through my academy. All those children following in our footsteps can learn a lot from us as well as we can learn a lot from them. And that fulfils me. It should be our privilege to work with them and try to give them maybe an easier path in sport, to show them what players’ lives are like, what qualities they should preserve through life and how important is to have a good education.
I studied Hospitality and Tourism Management as well as Sports Management. Working on yourself, as I said, is a very important daily task and education should be on that list. Our life doesn’t end with our careers: you find yourself in new surroundings and new challenges. Education, from my point of view, can bring you a new perspective. I know I felt productive.
Those are all things I wish to transfer to the next generations. I would be really happy if handball would always be fun for them and that love that never fades away. My advice to them is don’t give up on something you love no matter what the obstacles are. Don’t give up on your dreams. If you love something and dream big, it will come to you.
That’s how I see it. I know I will continue with my hard work and I hope for a great season in EHF Champions League with my club. After 10 years the circle has been closed and I’m playing for Krim Mercator again.
8 October 2021
preuzeto sa eurohandball.com