Using a wheelchair has not stopped nine-year-old Jane from playing football at every opportunity.
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Nine-year-old Jane Velkovski from Skopje, the capital of FYR Macedonia, lives and breathes football. He plays the game whenever he gets the chance, whether it is at home or at school, and his eyes light up whenever he talks about his favourite sport.
"Football is everything in my life," Jane explains. "I play it in videogames, I play it in our garden, and I play it at school. I play football everywhere."
Jane's determination to play football is even more impressive given the fact that he uses a wheelchair, having been diagnosed with Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA).
"I have a muscular disease, which means I can't walk," said Jane. "But I don't let anyone joke about the issues I have with walking. I want to tell the whole world that everyone is equal and that people with disabilities can do the same things everyone else can. And even if they can’t, that doesn't mean they can’t enjoy their lives."
His disability has not stopped him from playing football. He is the first one to take to the pitch when his friends go to play and he is his team's last line of defence as he plays in goal. Jane is very vocal. He enjoys marshalling his defenders and telling them who they need to mark, while it is clear that his teammates respect his authority.
"When I play football, I feel equal, I feel nice because I can participate in the game," he said. "I feel good that I can lead the team, I can win and I'm the captain. I'm happy when we win, and I'm sad when we lose."
Looking at Jane’s enthusiasm for football and for life, it would be difficult to imagine the constant battles that he has had to endure off the pitch. He needs special care throughout the day, even for simple things such as changing his position in his wheelchair.
In 2015, Jane travelled to Paris in order to have an operation to correct curvature in his spine. Every six months, he has follow-up treatment in the hope that this will increase his chances of one day being able to walk.
“Football has had a very positive influence on his life and having to deal with all the problems he is facing,” says Jane’s father, Gjorgji. “Through football, he has been able to realise that he can play an active part in society.”
Jane has become a small sensation in FYR Macedonia. He first began to grow in popularity after being handed the honour of leading out the FYR Macedonia team before their European Qualifier against Spain in June. However, it was an image from the UEFA Super Cup match in Skopje a couple of months later that really captured the country’s imagination, when it went viral on social media and local news.
“When the UEFA Super Cup was held at the Philip II Arena, we went into a room where there were some posters on the walls,” Jane explained.
“I had my photograph taken with both teams, but then I saw the poster of Ronaldo celebrating after scoring a goal and I said to myself that I should copy him. I asked my grandfather if he could take a photo of me and I copied Ronaldo’s pose. It’s a brilliant photo.”
Jane’s philosophy in life is to “not give up” and that everyone should “follow their dreams.” Despite being only nine-years-old, Jane shows exceptional maturity for someone so young. Central to his personality is an unquestionable desire to always look to achieve the impossible and make the unthinkable happen.
“When playing football I sometimes forget that I am in my electric wheelchair,” he said. “I imagine myself scoring goals like Ronaldo, and sometimes I almost forget that I can't walk.”