Life can be full of obstacles - from small issues to very big problems. We face them almost every day and it is important to know how to deal with them. Finding a strong support system and passion seems to be one of the most obvious but also the most accurate solutions. It was also the case for Mario.
Mario Obuljen is a 34-year-old recent graduate with a master’s degree in civil engineering from Croatia. Still, he is no ordinary student. Along with his academic career he is a passionate athlete and on the 4th of November, 2018 he ran the New York City Marathon. Mario agreed to share his story - the struggles of combining demanding studies with tough trainings and his experience of taking part in one of the largest and most well-known sporting events in the world.
Mario grew up in Dubrovnik, Croatia, in a caring family with two brothers and a sister. As a child he was diagnosed with dyslexia (reading difficulties), dysgraphia (writing difficulties), and dyscalculia (difficulties in processing numbers), which significantly impacted his future. His parents were persistent in helping him overcome these issues and his mother worked with him every day. This empowered him to be able to work and study on his own, even in such a demanding field as engineering. Now he says that dyslexia was a gift that shaped him into the hard-working and goal-oriented young adult that he is now. Mario emphasises that his diagnosis made him work on perfecting himself and developing both academic and sports skills.
Mario’s parents discovered his problems with reading and writing when he was 6. Always ambitious as a child and looking up to his older brother, he was excited to start elementary school. However, Mario’s experience wasn’t what he had expected. Not everyone understood his condition. When asked to read out loud during class, he could not complete the task and was called lazy or even stupid by his teacher. Not all teachers were so discouraging, though, and especially in his further education Mario met professors who understood and helped him. Apart from going to school, Mario attended classes at a Rehabilitation and Speech Rehabilitation Polyclinic in his hometown, Dubrovnik. In 1991, when the Croatian Homeland War began, he moved to Zagreb with his mother, brother, and sister, but soon returned to Dubrovnik to carry on in SUVAG - one of the best facilities for children with dyslexia in Croatia. Being separated from his parents at such a young age during wartime was hard. Nevertheless, Mario’s hard efforts and reading and writing exercises paid off. Today Mario writes very slow and sometimes has troubles when following a lecture, but he is used to it and has accepted the fact that he might need more time to study, but can still succeed. What is more, his condition has taught him not to take anything for granted. Because of this, he says he has more respect for others and he appreciates their achievements and hard work.
Whenever Mario recalls the journey he went through - from the painful reading experiences in elementary school to today’s joy of reading, he realises how much he has overcome, and how grateful he is for everyone who has been there for him every step of the way. What was once a nightmare, has now become a passion. Today Mario has over 1000 books and always starts and finishes his day with reading. He stresses that it is thanks to his imagination acquired by reading, learning, and working on his skills, that he has truly discovered himself.
Life is full of analogies, and Mario’s case isn’t an exception. Books are not the only passion of his. At a young age, his love for sport was inspired in Mario by his parents, mostly his dad. He encouraged all Obuljen siblings to stay active, explaining that it is a perfect way to interact with other kids, learn discipline and coordination and take care of their health. Mario loved physical activities because that was the area in which he wasn’t different from other kids. He could relax and feel like he fitted in.
As a student he did judo, and as a part of his trainings he would always go for easy jogs. This soon became his favourite part of the workout - running seemed to be the embodiment of the old Latin saying, "healthy spirit in a healthy body." As in the case of perfecting his reading skills, hard running trainings allowed Mario to develop his personality and perseverance.
Mario decided to run his first marathon in 2014. When he received his bachelor's degree he started to work in civil engineering and he was also an alderman for the city of Dubrovnik, so he put sports to the side. On New Years Day 2014 he decided to see how far he could run. Initially he aimed at 7-8 km, but as he approached 20km he decided to see if he could run 25km. At around 23km it started to get hard but instead of stopping, he told himself that he can go on for another 7km! Being a highly persistent person he ended up running 30km! Afterwards, he told his friends about this achievement and the idea of running the marathon was born. He made it his aim to keep studying hard to get his master’s degree as well as run the NYC Marathon in the future. As of November 4, 2018 he can proudly say he kept his promise.
The New York City Marathon wasn’t the first one for Mario. He had previously ran marathons in Ljubljana, Amsterdam, Zagreb, Linz, and Athens. The experience is always something really special for him. Finishing a marathon is the ultimate goal, and as he crosses the finish line all the emotions and stress are lifted off his shoulders.
Each marathon was a big challenge. Mario admits that he had the moments of weakness, but they made him feel human. He keeps a very healthy approach and is proud to have overcome the hard times. The marathon is a discipline that requires an extraordinary power of the spirit, and in moments of exhaustion passion was what kept him pushing forward.
Sport is Mario’s passion, everything he does to stay in shape is done with pleasure and love. When asked about his social life, Mario said it is in everything that he does. He does not go out for parties, because he doesn't find it especially interesting. Instead he hangs out with his friends from sport, school and work. Other favorite pastimes of his are diving, learning foreign languages, going to a book promotion or a theatre.
Preparations for the marathon lasted for 16 weeks and consisted of runs at various intensities six days a week and two strength sessions. They were very complex and both physically and psychologically demanding. However, three weeks of intense training were followed by a lighter week of regeneration. Combining studies, work, and training was complicated at times, but thanks to the support of his family and friends Mario could accomplish his goal, that was graduating and as a prize taking part in NYC Marathon.
He travelled to the US a week before the Marathon. At that time of preparations his training sessions were a lot lighter, so he could do a lot of sightseeing and visited Central Park, Times Square, Brooklyn Bridge and all of the other tourists spots. Having added a sixth marathon to his life accomplishments Mario is not ready to stop just yet. However, he says that for now he will continue training with a little less intensity and stress and focus on his job and perfecting his reading. His next running goal is Bible Marathon in Israel, but he does not put any time pressure on himself. Mario says that God works in mysterious ways, so nothing is certain about the future, but he will for sure continue to work on himself to be better and more complete person following his favourite words of thinkers such as Aristotle, Buddha or Pythagoras - “Know Yourself”.