Nenad Pagonis, athlete and the founder of the Pagonis Foundation: Never give up on your dreams

I am the proudest of the fact that despite everything I have achieved and seen, I am still a simple man who appreciates little things. 

I think that the most important thing today is instilling a normal value system in children – caring for the environment, caring for each other and essentially fighting not to go down the wrong way because the young will inherit the world.

Nenad Pagonis, athlete and the founder of the Pagonis Foundation

You have established the Pagonis Foundation to help sick and socially disadvantaged children. What are the Foundation’s goals?  

The Foundation’s goals are caring for disadvantaged children and children suffering from various diseases, which implies providing normal living conditions for every disadvantaged child, i.e. food, clothes, shoes and schooling, i.e. books and basic school supplies. Another goal that is crucial to us is to provide financial support to sick children and their treatment. In essence, the idea for establishing this foundation came from a long struggle with these problems.

You have won ten world titles and three European titles. What important message would you like to send out to young generations today? How does a person become a champion?

You become a champion by stepping out of your comfort zone when things are difficult. No-one has ever become a champion by lying in bed and doing nothing. It took a lot of blood, sweat and sacrifice for me to succeed. We all know what makes children spoiled today and that is the idea of ​​quick and easy money. Such money and success vanish in the same way they came about – quickly and easily. When a person earns something through hard work, both they and people around them are aware of the weight it carries and will therefore respect it more. I think that loving what you do is the most valuable thing to achieve success. That’s what I advise children.

How important is it to influence young people and fight against violence?

This seems to me to be the biggest youth problem today. What scares me is not the number of bullies in schools, but rather the number of children who watch violence and do not react to it. According to our research, 80% of children who are witnesses of bullying and do not react at all. They even record cases of bullying or make fun of it. That’s a pretty devastating fact. When I teach in schools, I usually use my example of how roles can make a difference in life to draw their attention. I was bullied by an older student, and after many years, when I became a world champion I met that guy on the street. There was fear in his eyes. But, of course, I just winked at him because my priorities were in the ring. That example encourages them to contemplate a lot.

Find something you love to do with all your heart, put all of your efforts into it and success is guaranteed”

You sing, play and act, you wrote a book and you are the recipient of many awards. Which part of your abundant biography is the most interesting to you?

My youth is the most interesting part of my biography, namely a constant struggle with poverty and existential problems, but also not giving up on my dreams and the love I felt for sports, which in the end brought me great success and inner satisfaction. I am also in love with music, which has given me emotional breadth and depth throughout my kickboxing career. I’m quite creative, so maybe that’s where my multidisciplinary side comes from. I am the proudest of the fact that despite everything I have achieved and seen, I am still a simple man who appreciates little things because happiness is found in little things.

What are your work and life plans?

My work plans certainly revolve around working with youth and children, that is a hundred children through my foundation and a hundred that I work privately with in my club. One of the plans is also to create a large martial arts centre that will accommodate a lot of young people who are still looking for their way in life. Let’s face it, not everyone has to become a champion, but the fact that they play sports and have role models gives them a much better chance of succeeding in some other segments of life.

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