Ten months ago, Czech MMA athlete Veronika Zajicova was putting the finishing touches to her preparations for the 2021 GAMMA European Championships and looking forward to celebrating her 18th birthday, dreaming of a professional MMA career.
Then one evening on her way home from training she was hit by a car at a crossing and it changed her life forever. The young woman woke up in the hospital, completely paralysed and connected to devices in the resuscitation unit. Suffering from a cracked vertebra and skull, bleeding in the brain, and a complicated fracture, her first thought was that she won’t be able to go to training in the morning.
Being told in hospital that her leg needed to be amputated was extremely traumatic, but thankfully after some further assessment, that was not necessary. Even so, she suffered nerve damage, required screws in the bones and still does not have full feeling in her leg. With the prospect of weeks in a wheelchair and walking short distances with crutches, she was still attempting to train as much as possible, especially when no one was looking.
Fast forward to last month at the 2022 GAMMA European Championships in Tbilisi, and anybody watching her fantastic double medal winning performances in the 52.2kg categories would be none the wiser of the trauma she had only just recovered from.
Zajicova’s first taste of combat sport came from Aikido when her parents wanted her to know how to defend herself. However, she honed up on her Japanese skills more than any combat techniques and it wasn’t long before she turned to self-defence instead which she was doing in a boxing gym. Boxing became the sport of choice, and she quickly realised her talent, becoming national champion and winning medals at the continental level. Having witnessed MMA training several times before, she decided to have a go and it immediately became her new passion, even if that meant commuting around 70km every time she trains.
These obstacles don’t phase the Czech woman who has dealt with adversity for a long time, “my mother has been disabled since birth as she was born with cerebral palsy, and she is in a wheelchair. You can probably imagine how hard she had to endure that, and that makes us even more tough as a family.”
Both of her parents are extremely supportive, and her father is actively involved in Zajicova’s career, “my father is a great support for me, not only in the ring, but also in life. I have a rather more complicated life than a lot of my peers with a lot of training, plus school and other responsibilities and I’m very happy that my father helps me.”
Dealing with and recovering from her accident has given Zajicova a new perspective on the values of practising MMA, “MMA saved me twice. Initially the doctors told me that if it wasn’t for the fact that I was so athletic and well trained, I may not have survived, or the damage could have been even worse. Then MMA has really helped me with recovery. Immediately after returning home, I started visiting the gym with crutches and in a wheelchair. I practiced as much as I could there as I still wanted to return to the ring this season. I had lots of injections in my leg to restore the nerves and I was extremely happy when I started walking without crutches and then progressing to running. Doctors and trainers did not believe that it was possible to return to training so soon.”
Even making it to Tbilisi was remarkable and her experience unlike anyone else’s. Being one of the youngest athletes to enter the ring didn’t faze her at all, “GAMMA is unique as they let amateurs and professionals compete and I always try and learn a lot from my opponents. It is more difficult and more prestigious to compete and to win at these competitions. The organisation of the event is at a very high level, and it gives a great platform for any athlete who wants to work their way to the professional ranks.”
Returning from the European Championships with two medals was something she never thought possible, “After I won, there was a huge feeling of happiness. Something incredibly beautiful. The last year flashed through my head. From the desperation that I had to deal with and overcome, to this immense feeling of joy. I have experienced the feeling of victory many times, but this time it was something completely different. It wasn’t just about the sport, this time I felt like I was starting to live again in that moment.”
Despite the unexpected last 12 months, the goals for Zajicova have not changed, “I still plan to compete in boxing and MMA. The two sports complement each other very well but on a professional level I want to focus more on MMA as it is more fulfilling for me. I want to compete at the GAMMA World Championships as this is my big goal to be crowned World Champion. I am also hoping to have my first professional match in the RFA.”
Her story is truly remarkable and shows how important MMA is in her life now and for the future, “I am never giving up, not only for myself, but also for the people who believe in me and support me. It’s a huge commitment. There are many people who support me, and I can at least repay them in some way. I am very grateful to the coaches for being patient with me, especially Jakub Muler. I am happy that I can make up for the shock, fear, and anxiety that those closest to me have experienced in the last year. Thank you very much to everyone who has made it possible for me to do the sport that I enjoy.”
The entire GAMMA family is happy to see Veronika competing again and wishes her all the best for her ongoing career in the sport.