Martin Daniel, the ball hockey champion of Slovakia, is also a diabetic and a member of the Romani community
There are some sports in Europe where it is difficult to find a Romani player. One of them is certainly ball hockey, which is hockey played on asphalt with a ball and without skates.
If ice hockey is the fastest team sport, then ball hockey is the second-fastest. It is not, however, just a sport for children living on housing estates.
Ball hockey has its leagues, its professional players, and its World Championship. We took a look at Slovakia's Ball Hockey Extraliga with the player who is this year's champion, 31-year-old Martin Daniel, who plays for HBK Hokejmarket Skalica.
Q: Congratulations on winning the title of Slovak champion. What does it feel like to be the best?
A: Last year we made it to the finals also and we missed winning by a hair. This time we left nothing to chance and we were much better prepared. An unreal amount of people came to the stadium to support our last match and we wanted to reward them. They pushed us forward. I only realize that we have won when I look at the medal, otherwise it still hasn't sunk in. We won the start of the last season but during the play-offs that wasn't enough. This season we did not advance to the play-offs until the final match. We came in seventh. Our final competitors from Kežmarok started in fifth place. Few people believed we would win the title, and for that reson we still cannot believe it.
Q: What all does a person have to do be the best in Slovakia?
A: There's a great deal of hard work, self-denial and sweat involved. During the week I am at work and on the weekend I am at the ball hockey matches. Besides the Extraliga, the Skalica municipal league also plays. Since Sunday [the finals], people have been asking me how much money we are getting for the title, but we don't play for money. Everybody on our team is a volunteer. We're just glad when we find the money to cover the costs of the season, which are considerable.
Q: Where did you begin ball hockey?
A: I began ice hockey at the age of seven. At school they asked who would like to play. I tried one practice and I liked it. I didn't dedicate myself to ice hockey until after the juniors and I didn't manage to transition into the pros. I attempted to return later after joining the team in Senica, but that didn't work out either. I missed the game of hockey, though, so I tried ball hockey and fell in love with it. I worked my way up from the Skalica municipal league to the Extraliga and that was my route to the title I sought. It might be interesting for your readers to know that Milan Sobol accompanied me all the way as a defender. I played with him in defense in school competitions, in the junior league, and in Senica. I play with him now too.
Q: Sometimes people joke that you compete during matches wearing n MP3 player. Is that true?
A: I am diabetic and during matches - as at all other times - I wear an insulin pump. It's a little battery-powered device connected to a needle inserted beneath the skin. It might sound horrifying, but there are many athletes and sports players in the world who function like that. During one match my pump fell out and a player on the other team shouted that I was playing with an MP3 player on me. We sometimes recall that and laugh about it in the locker room. I am mainly glad that science has advanced in this sphere also and that I can actually manage to live a full-fledged life because of it. I would like to be a role model for young people with diabetes. They don't have to give up their sports dreams!
Q: You have apparently overcome diabetes. How is it with another obstacle: Racism in ball hockey?
A: I cannot imagine a sphere of life where there isn't any racism. In ball hockey there are a lot of nerve-wracking, tense situations. They are the source of a lot of verbal abuse, sometimes also racist abuse. I do not know how to assess whether the guys I am playing against actually mean what they are saying in those moments. Maybe they just want to attack me at a sensitive spot and distract me. I admit that unfortunately, they frequently manage to do that. However, I think the medal I have around my neck will shut them up.
A: What would you like to say to the boys and girls who want to dedicated themselves to ball hockey?
A: If they have a ball hockey team near them and they like the game, I warmly recommend that they contact the nearest club. However, I would rather call on young people to figure out whatever it is they are called to do and to dedicate themselves to that. Each of us has a talent for something and it is a pity not to develop it. If we do a little more, we can achieve success. However my ball hockey career may continue, I will always recall this period of my life with pleasure. Only one team can win the championship title, and very many things must come togther for that to happen.
Q: The championship of Slovakia is in good hands in Skalica. To whom would you like to dedicate it?
A: Certainly to my family for al their support. To my father, who always followed my matches and who has been following them from Heaven for almost four years now. Also to my girlfriend Lucie for her patience and support despite all of my traveling to matches all over Slovakia.
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