Adis Karkelja had a weekend he will never forget.

On Saturday (May 27), he became a national weightlifting champion for the tenth time, and on Sunday (May 28) he was called out to help rescue a woman hanging on for life after she fell down a mountain.

Like his lifts in the Bosnia national championships, the rescue effort – which involved dozens of people on treacherous terrain – was successful. More than 20 attempts for a helicopter rescue failed because 61-year-old hiker Vlatka Hrgović was effectively trapped on a sheer rockface. After a 12-hour “on foot” rescue operation on Mount Velež, which involved specialists climbing up to bring Hrgović down to safety, she was admitted to hospital in nearby Mostar with serious but not life-threatening injuries.

“It was just one wrong step. I slipped and there was no going back,” Hrgović told a Bosnian reporter.

The experienced hiker from Croatia, who broke four ribs and was left hanging from a cable halfway down the mountain, about 200 metres up, said, “I found a small slot in the cliff where I could lean on.

“If I had stayed hanging for all the time it took them to save me, I would no longer be alive. “I’m not sure I’ll ever hike again.”

Karkelja and his father Almir got the call at 7PM on Sunday and after a 120km drive from their home in Konjic, they had to walk for two hours across “very wild terrain where you move very slowly”, he told insidethegames.

They were part of the transportation team that helped Hrgović to safety and did not return home until 7 AM on Monday (May 29).

Adis Karkelja became a national weightlifting champion last weekend before helping to rescue Vlatka Hrgović ©Adis Karkelja

Karkelja, 28, who has lifted internationally, has been called into action 20 times since he and Almir – his coach – joined the Mountain Rescue Service of Bosnia and Herzegovina three years ago. “My hardest mission was after the earthquake in Turkey in February,” said Karkelja, a mechanical engineering teacher at high school.

He was part of the search and rescue team in Adiyaman, where 6,000 people died and 1,200 buildings collapsed. “I was there for seven days, searching for people in the crushed buildings.  “We did not find anybody alive, only 15 dead.” Like all members of the rescue team, Karkelja is a volunteer. “I didn’t do any climbing when I was young, I did weightlifting. “My father is my coach and now both of us are in the rescue team because we want to help people when they are in danger.”

His sporting highlight came in his days as a junior, when Karkelja – who last lifted in international competition in 2018 – was third in the Alpe Adria tournament in Slovenia, finishing ahead of a European Junior Championships medallist.

Karkelja’s career-best efforts were 125-148 in the old 90 kilograms category, far more than he needed for his tenth title on Saturday (80-100-180). 

The best numbers came from Mak Numic at 109kg, where he made 130-160-290.

“We at the Bosnia and Herzegovina Weightlifting Federation are thankful for our wonderful humanitarian competitor and his coach, Adis and Almir, who are the perfect example for future generations of lifters and sportsmen,” said Nedim Masic, the National Federation’s general secretary.

“Every action when you save someone’s life is special,” Karkelja said.

“It is in your head for the rest of your life.”


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