Sara in Wonderland: Champion for Life

It was 30 minutes before her scheduled interview when Sara Savatovic arrived at Bill Snyder Family Stadium. She’d agreed to sit down with Big 12 Conference correspondent Wendell Barnhouse to talk about her experiences as a student-athlete, and the 22-year-old senior hammer thrower couldn’t hide her exuberance.

“I can’t believe I was asked to do this,” she said. “It is such an honor. I love K-State, what it’s allowed me to do. It’s changed my life. I’m so excited to talk about this school and how my scholarship changed my life.”

The native of Crvenka, Serbia, was all smiles. She is a public relations major, but the idea that she is the one being profiled made her giggle. “Are you sure you want to talk to me?” she asked. “I’m not so interesting.”

She sat down, settled in and Barnhouse teed-up his first question. “Tell me something about your hometown.”

“I’m from a town of about 10,000 people,” she said. “It’s a small town, and I started track there. Eventually, I moved to another town to pursue track, and I had to leave my family.”

She talked briefly about her family – her mom, who is a nurse, her retired father and a younger sister, also a nurse. She misses them. Manhattan, Kansas, is a long way from the town lake where as children she and her sister spent summer days swimming from sun-up to sundown.

“When I moved from home to pursue track, I enrolled in a medical high school,” she said. “If you finish medical high school, you will get a job usually. I finished pharmacy, so I could work in pharmacy. My sister is a nurse, so she’s working in a hospital now. My parents only want me to be happy. If I decided to work in pharmacy and not pursue university, they would have been okay. But I think it’s important to improve yourself.”

She sipped her bottle of water and then continued.

“I was a good track athlete, but back home it’s – it’s really hard to – to go to college and be an athlete at the same time,” she said. “You have to decide whether you want to go pro – or go to college. You have to choose between your sport or your education. I wanted both.

“I think I was like a junior in high school when I first heard that there were some Serbians and Croatians, like Balkan athletes, that were in the U.S. They had really good experiences, so I was like, ‘Really? Why should I not try that?’ So, I started thinking about it little by little, did some SAT tests and other tests that I had to. That’s when I started preparing mentally to come to the U.S.”

“So how did you get connected with Kansas State?” asked Barnhouse.

“I started talking with the former coach, Steve Fritz, on Facebook. He also came to an international meet where I was competing. He was an Olympian, so he was really like somebody who I really had respect for. That made a big impact on me. I decided to visit K-State. I really didn’t know actually anything about college life. I was just coming to see. I didn’t know what it was going to be. I just felt so wonderful there. I think from the first moment I got here, I started loving everything. I remember people back home asking me about how I liked K-State. I said I was like Alice in Wonderland.”

She stopped, smiled and then added, “Sara in Wonderland.”

The interview turned toward the level of competition in the Big 12 and her goals of winning the conference championship. They talked about her teammates (“it makes my day to know they are supporting me”), and the academic support she’s received at the university (“I couldn’t have imagined all this – they give you what you need to succeed”). She even mentioned the weight of a hammer in the hammer throw (“four kilograms – I think that’s like nine pounds”) and her simple philosophy regarding her technique (“if I do everything right, it will go in the right direction.”).

But the conversation found its way back to Manhattan and the perfect fit she found at K-State.

“I think I was just meant to come here,” she said. “For me, this is the best place in the world. Like, I can’t imagine myself anywhere else. We travel everywhere, so I’ve seen a lot of other campuses. But they are just not K-State. This place is just great for me.”

As for her major, she decided not to follow in the footsteps of her mother and sister and enter the medical profession.

“When I came here, I wanted to see what else there might be. I took the class, public relations, and was like “Wow, I should do that.’”

Barnhouse wrapped the interview by asking Savatovic to repeat one of the taglines being used for the Big 12’s new student-athlete focused “Champions for Life” awareness campaign.

“I love this,” she said. “I love the word ‘champion’ so much.”

She looked into the camera and said, “I am Sara Savatovic, and I am a champion for life.”

She giggled again. “I am a champion for life. This is so good!”

Click here for more on all Big 12 Champions for Life.