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By Jennifer Royer
Merzudin Ibric, in white, runs for Wheaton College at a track meet.
The NCAA Honors Committee has named Merzudin Ibric, former indoor and outdoor track and field student-athlete from Wheaton College (Mass.), the 2011 Inspiration Award recipient.
A Bosnian refugee, Ibric fled his war-torn native land with his family and arrived in the United States in 1998. His journey since—filled with challenges and triumphs—is an inspiring lesson in courage, perseverance and unending hope.
Ibric will be recognized in January during the Honors Celebration at the 2011 NCAA Convention in San Antonio.
The Inspiration award is presented to a current coach or administrator or to a current or former varsity student-athlete who, when confronted with a life-altering situation, used perseverance, dedication and determination to overcome the event and now serves as a role model to give hope and inspiration to others.
Ibric was six years old when war broke out in Bosnia in 1992. Because they were Muslim, Ibric and his family became targets of Slobodan Milosevic’s campaign of ethnic cleansing. Almost immediately, the family felt the impact of the war: Ibric’s uncle was shot and killed by a sniper and his father was wounded. One day while playing hide-and-seek in the back yard, Ibric’s 2-year-old sister was hit by a bomb. Because there were no hospitals, his parents had to try to treat her wounds themselves.
Thankfully, she survived, despite the family struggling to find food and enduring extreme living conditions.
Ibric and his family fled Srebrenica shortly before more than 8,000 people were massacred there. After the dissolution of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia in 1991, Bosnian Muslims, Serbs and Croats fell into a war that lasted nearly four years. The conflict claimed more than 100,000 lives and uprooted more than two million people.
In June 1998, Ibric’s family landed at Boston’s Logan Airport and was taken to an apartment in Revere, Mass., to start their lives over.
"It was difficult learning a new language, being in a new country and not knowing the people," said Ibric. "As time wore on, things became easier. There were Bosnian people from the Balkan region who my parents started meeting. When we went to the beach nearby, it was like a whole Bosnian community."
For a while after he arrived in the United States, he only knew two English words: “okay” and “bye,” which he picked up from watching movies like “Rambo”. He would later earn an English Excellence Award at his high school. In college, he reached the Dean’s List while earning all-America honors in the 400-meter dash and national championships in the 4x100- and 4x400-meter relays. He also earned three straight U.S. Track Field and Cross Country Coaches Association (USTFCCCA) all-Academic team honors. He has written a book about his experiences called “Running for My Life,” which he hopes to publish. Additionally, he was selected a recipient of the Eastern College Athletic Association (ECAC) Award of Valor.
Merzudin Ibric talks at a Darfur awareness event.
One of Ibric’s goals is to ensure other children will not suffer through genocide. He has worked as a summer intern as an analyst with the U.S. Government during which he utilized his language skills in Serbo-Croatian and Russian. In addition, he has told his story at several public events with the hopes of raising awareness of the horrors to genocide. He has made presentations to teachers, guidance counselors and school administrators to help them understand how to work with students like himself and others and help them persevere and achieve at the highest level. In 2007, he spoke at the Rally for Darfur at City Hall Plaza in Boston and in July 2005, he spoke at the 10th Anniversary Commemoration of the Srebrenica Massacre in Cambridge, Mass.
"What's happening in Darfur is something that I went through," Ibric said. "If there's a way I can make a child's life better by speaking about it, I'm more than glad to help out. I don't want young children seeing the things I saw and living in fear for their lives."
Ibric, a two-year team captain at Wheaton, two-time national champion and five-time all-American in track, also holds four school records. He majored in international relations with a minor in Russian. He now works for the U.S. Government.