Source: iStock 2021
#BeActive Local Hero Award - Tomáš Slavata
Sometimes children take their parents for granted and assume that at least one of them will be around to take care of and love them at home. Unfortunately, for orphans, the simple gift of a mother or father is not for them. It’s a situation known all too well to Tomáš Slavata. A triathlete, entrepreneur and philanthropist from the Czech Republic, he tours the country’s 165 orphanages, performing demonstrations for children and organising and encouraging them to be sporty. His extraordinary and inspiring efforts earned him the 2020 #BeActive Local Hero Award.
Slavata says his initiative was spurred by his own difficult family circumstances. “I had a complicated childhood,” he says. “My mother was an alcoholic who never settled with her partners. I didn’t have a father figure. I sought stability in sport. It was the only truly positive thing in my life at that point. It helped me stay out of trouble and helped make me who I am now.”
Aged just 21, he adopted his own two young nephews who ended up in an in orphanage after his sister fell into drug addiction. Six years ago, he adopted two other children.
He eventually became a successful triathlete and entrepreneur, coming 13th in the Xterra World Championships in Hawaii in 2009 and fifth overall in the Xterra Field Triathlon Cup. However, he never forgot his roots. “For me, sport has never been an activity in itself,” he says. “It was more. It has quite literally saved me. Now, I do my best to provide the same experience to children who have found themselves in difficult situations, and give them courage, motivation, and hope.”
In 2011, he started the Slavata Triathlon Tours. Targeting children aged four to 18, The Tours mainly focus on Czech orphanages and children from socially disadvantaged families, introducing them to the three-triathlon disciplines of running, cycling and swimming. He provides equipment so everyone can take part. “One of the basic massages I want to share with children is that sport can be a source of strength. It can help people push their limits and build their resilience,” he says.
Tomáš Slavata's flagship is the Triathlon Tour. It is a series of triathlon races held throughout the Czech Republic for children 7-18 years old. It engages kids both from children's homes and ‘ordinary’ families, bringing them together. The Tour also helps to organise other children's races, implementing or co-organising up to 50 events per year for children.
On top of that, Slavata organises other projects too. One of them is a sports camp for promising athletes. He takes part in dozens of talks at primary schools and he works with stage and screen star Rostislav Novák on performances for orphans at the La Putyka theatre. “I have organised 130 Slavata Triathlon Tours, 50 camps, 300 discussions, and 80 athletic events for about 47 000 participating children,” he says.
Since the coronavirus started spreading across the country in March 2020, his tours have taken on a special significance. Although many sporting events were cancelled, Slavata remained active, delivering vital medical supplies, like disinfectants, vitamins and masks to orphanages. When the situation stabilised, he revived his demonstrations, using covid-secure methods.
Slavata tries to break down the barriers between orphanages and the outside world, creating connections between orphans and other children, families and schools. “Everyone deserves the same start to life,” he says. “It’s less about sport and more about motivation and role models. It helps prepare the children for life after the orphanages, so they can survive in a world that can be tough.”
He says he aims to instill in children the value of solidarity. “The most precious thing adults can offer children is their time,” he says. “Thanks to the undivided attention that we dedicate to them, and thanks to the environment of solidarity and friendliness that we try to create, I believe that we make this journey a bit easier for them.”
Slavata's tireless efforts have been recognised in the Czech Republic and internationally with honours such as the International Olympic Committee’s Sport and Social Responsibility award, a wall plaque in the Prague 17th District, and the Czech Radio Heroes project. When he heard about the #BeActive award, he was driving his car. “I burst into tears when I got the news,” he says. “I’m happy that people recognize how human values matter. It shows that it doesn't matter where we begin. What matters is that we fight and don't give up.”