TORONTO – Bogdan Knezevic was only three years old when his parents made a life-changing decision to leave war-torn Serbia and move to Canada in the 1990s. Their ability to reconstruct their lives and overcome major hurdles is what keeps the 23-year-old swimmer motivated every day to excel in school and in sports.
That talent combination recently earned Knezevic the Academic All-America of the Year Award.
To be eligible for Academic All-America consideration, a student-athlete must be a varsity starter or key reserve and maintain a cumulative GPA of 3.30 on a scale of 4.00. Heather MacLean of the UBC Dolphins and Tianna Risling of the University of Calgary were both named to the Academic All America first all star team in the College Division. Rissling maintained a 4.0 GPA and MacLean a 3.82 GPA. Both are majoring in kinesiology.
‘’My parents have been an inspiration for me for life in general,’’ said Knezevic, who grew up in the Toronto area. ‘’The perseverance that they display is pretty huge for me even today. I can’t imagine how difficult it must have been to bring your three-year-old child to another country. They sold all their goods in Belgrade and went to a country where they didn’t know anybody and didn’t know the language and made a successful life for all of us.’’
‘’But if you had to pick a country to achieve this, Canada is the right choice. ’’
Knezevic has excelled in athletics and academics throughout his career as a Dino. The fourth-year neuroscience student boasts a 4.00 GPA, earning him a place on the Dean’s list. In addition, Knezevic has been named an Academic All-Canadian each year.
‘’My academic and swimming career at the U of C has been generally smooth,’’ said Knezevic, who needs one more year to complete his degree. ‘’Right from the start the school side and swimming side were on board with me to achieve my goals. It’s been a lot of work but I’ve also been fortunate.’’
His father Jovan now owns his own insurance business while his mother Natasha is a teacher with the Peel District School Board. His uncle, who also moved to Canada, is in internal medicine at the University of Toronto.
In 1998, Natasha was diagnosed with leukemia and at age seven Bogdan was able to watch his mother overcome another major challenge. She fought the disease successfully to watch her only child achieve success.
‘’My mother is the biggest fighter I know,’’ Knezevic said. ‘’Seeing her and my family come together is an inspiration for everything I do.’’
Knezevic swam for Canada and was part of its national junior program. In 2008 he represented Canada at the world junior championships and in 2009 at the Junior Pan Pacific Championships.
In May 2012, he officially joined the Serbian national swim team. He just missed making Serbia’s 2012 Olympic team and competed for them last year at the FINA World Championships and World Cup events.
‘’I’m very hungry to compete at the 2016 Olympics,’’ he said. ‘’Last summer went really well for me and I’ve qualified for the European Championships this year. The window to qualify for the Olympics for me will open in March 2015 and go until June 2016.’’
Even though Bogdan would be wearing Serbian colours in Rio there’s no doubt the Canadian maple leaf would be tattooed on his heart.