CP: Could you tell us a bit about your background?
ET: I was born and raised in Dubrovnik. Looking back at my childhood now, I appreciate it even more than I probably did as a kid. I find our upbringing in the 70s and 80s much simpler then these days. Nowadays everything revolves around technology and kids being glued to their computers and cell phones with often times limited social interaction. I wouldn’t trade our outdoor games, bus tags across the city, sneaking into people’s backyards to pick up fruits (and yes sometimes even throwing water balloons at bystanders), summer days at beach “Dance”, evening walks at “Stradun” for anything. I look at those times very fondly at this age and consider myself lucky and privileged to have had that kind of childhood.
CP: Dubrovnik is almost a sinonym for water polo, so it seems quite natural for almost anyone growing up in Dubrovnik to get into water sports. When and how did you get into sports?
ET: Dubrovnik is, as we all know, the water polo mecca. My brother, who is two years older, started playing it and soon after, at the age of 12, I followed in his steps.
CP: Thus far, you have lived in various cities, both in Croatia and in the US. Did you find their cultures quite different one from another?
ET: After finishing high school in Dubrovnik, I moved to Zagreb to first pursue bachelor’s and then master’s degree in Sports Science. I am a city person and regardless of, often times, gloomy and cold winter days and no access to the Adriatic, I enjoyed living in Zagreb. Zagreb lives year long, which may not the case with the coastal cities, including Dubrovnik, where you go from super busy summer months to “nothing is happening” winter months. As far as Miami, I consider it my home now. In Miami, like in every other city, you may find things that you like less or even dislike. I chose to ignore those aspects and instead focus only on the good things that the city has to offer; multi ethnicity (I have never felt like a stranger in this city), being outdoors and wearing t-shirts all year long, access to the ocean and just in general friendly and laid-back atmosphere.
CP: There is an incredible number of cities in the world. Why Miami?
ET: Before moving to the States, I felt like I didn’t have a future for myself in Zagreb, not in my profession and at least not the kind of future that I wanted for myself. I knew if I wanted to be more “marketable” that I had to acquire more skills and continue with my education. Therefore, I applied for several doctoral programs all over the world. I was lucky to receive positive answers from Beijing (China) and Miami.
I really can’t say why Miami and not China. Miami simply felt like the right choice at that time. I still remember the day (January 6th, 2006), when I left Zagreb. When I boarded that plane I had no expectations and no intentions to impose any on myself. All I knew was that I was open to that new chapter of my life and I tried my best to fully embrace it. The years of a doctoral program were extremely challenging and little that I knew, I was committed to five long, grueling and hard years on a very low budget. At the end not only that I gained a diploma but also some valuable life lessons. Looking back now I really pad myself on the back for staying on the path and enduring that journey.
CP: What does your work entail, and what's interesting about it?
ET: am currently involved in several projects. At the University of Miami Medical School I work as research associate. My job entails clinical research trials and examining the effect of healthy lifestyle choices (i.e. physical activity, healthy eating, natural supplements, smoking cessation etc.) on the various medical chronic conditions such as cancer, Alzheimer’s, diabetes, HIV etc.
Last year, together with several colleagues of mine, I was awarded a $250K grant from AstraZeneca HealthCare foundation to develop a community initiative for underprivileged individuals with HIV. The project includes healthy eating and exercise, services that this patient population normally doesn’t have access to. The whole process of applying for funds and now conducting the project has entailed a few years of leg work. However, it all makes it worthwhile and rewarding now after seeing the smiles on those patients and witnessing the improvements in their quality of lives.