NEW YORK -- Silvija Mitevska defines an empowered woman as confident, determined and unafraid.
Mitevska is confident because she believes in herself and what she can accomplish, no matter how strong the opposition. She's determined because she's unique, thinking and acting outside the box. She's unafraid, taking up paragliding when she was 15.
Tying the package together, Mitevska, 36, is a symbol of excellence for her native Macedonia as a participant in the U.S. Department of State Global Sports Mentoring Program, a collaboration between the State Department, the University of Tennessee, and espnW. For the fourth straight year, the NHL is participating as a host organization, offering young women worldwide the chance to work with American sports properties and consumer brands.
"She follows her dream in her heart and her passion," Mitevska, who will be working at the NHL through Nov. 4, said of the empowered woman. "Passion for me is very important. My passion is sport, and I always knew since I was very little I would do sport in my life.
"I followed my passion and my emotions, even though I don't have such a big support from the community or the society because I was very different from the other girls of that time. That's what made me so strong, believing in me and chasing my dream."
The desire to be different from came paragliding, the competitive, free-flying adventure sport Mitevska discovered by chance at a summer camp when her parents introduced her to a friend who was an instructor. She's always been attracted to sports that provide an adrenaline surge; paragliding made her feel alive, made her feel special. Though she tried other sports, paragliding became a base for everything else in her life. She won Paragliding World Cups in Slovenia and Italy in the early 2000s, and recently became Macedonia's first female tandem pilot.
"Once you land, you have all this happiness that I never found in other sports," Mitevska said. "It changed my life. The sensation is literally flying like a bird. You have all this freedom. You're not in a cockpit. You can turn around and see everything. The sensation is amazing."
Paragliding opened up Mitevska's world and ignited a drive for human rights. Two years ago she co-founded and became president of Together Advancing Common Trust (TAKT), a sport-based, non-governmental organization promoting social and gender equality through sports and cultural activities.
"TAKT is basically using tools to initiate social change," Mitevska said. "We advocate very strongly women [and their] empowerment through sports. In my country, girls only take sport as a recreation, as a hobby, and we want to be those positive role models that can change the mindset and show them that it's not only a recreation, you can have a sports-related career and you can be very good at it."
Despite Mitevska's success in paragliding, women still make up a small minority of extreme sports participants in the Balkan region. Once her time with the League ends, Mitevska will use what she has learned to implement an action plan. Through TAKT, she intends to research how many girls drop out of sport and use that data to raise awareness on a national level while influencing national strategists to create better opportunities for girls to participate in sports.
"It's an amazing experience, it's a once in a lifetime opportunity," Mitevska said. "And the NHL has given me great and valuable information. We haven't reached that level yet that we can go and we can influence, and that our opinion will matter to the creators of these national policies. Maybe in a couple of years we'll be able participate in some boards where we can advocate for women's right in sport."
Bigger. Stronger. Better. Those are Mitevska's goals for sports in Macedonia, where she'll be aiming higher than the flight of a paraglider.
"Sport is really left out," Mitevska said. "We are really one of a kind because we try to use sport in culture for social change, to raise awareness and to serve better in my country. Sport is such a powerful tool and can do so many good things. People in Macedonia, they don't see that. We want to be the first one to introduce those ideas and hopefully implement them."