Rutgers student represents Macedonia in Rio Olympics
Born and raised in New Jersey, Anastasia Bogdanovski never expected to be an Olympic athlete — let alone the flag bearer of a country of more than two million.
Representing her parents’ native country, Macedonia, Bogdanovski swam in the women’s 200-meter freestyle at the 2016 Olympics Games in Rio de Janeiro. The 23 year-old set a national record for the small Balkan nation before returning home to begin her other dream of studying at the Rutgers New Jersey Medical School (NJMS).
“I was so proud to swim under the Macedonian flag. Not a lot of people know who we are as a country,” said Bogdanovski, who holds dual U.S. and Macedonian citizenship. “Just being able to bring my country into the public eye a little bit more was amazing.”
Bogdanovski’s family made sure their heritage was a prominent influence in her and her brother’s upbringing. She attended Macedonian church and frequently traveled to New York for cultural events of the former Yugoslavian state.
While in high school, her uncle contacted a coach for Macedonia’s swim team. Bogdanovski only asked him to bring her back a swim cap with the country’s flag on it, but the coach, impressed by her swim times, sought her participation in the national side.
“We started communicating and figuring out how I could represent Macedonia,” she said.
The first-time Olympian prepared for the games at the North Baltimore Aquatic Club, training with high-profile swimmers like Allison Schmitt and 23-time Olympic gold medalist Michael Phelps.
Aside from beating the previous women’s 200-meter freestyle record time for Macedonia — which was set by herself — and carrying her country’s flag during the opening ceremony, the Fanwood, New Jersey, resident cherished the time spent with her national delegation and swimmers representing other countries, some of which are her training teammates back in the states.
“We were all representing different countries … but seeing us all doing well and cheering for each other was amazing,” she said.
She described her encounter with former NBA player Yao Ming at the Olympic village as a surreal experience.
“I was like ‘Oh my god, he is so tall,’” she said.
Bogdanovski’s first day of classes at NJMS was on Aug. 15. Just a day after she arrived home from the Olympics, she unpacked, repacked and went to her dorm on the Newark campus, spending just a few hours with her family.
“It was kind of a rough transition, you know, dealing with the change in my life because medical school is so intense in your studying,” she said.
Bogdanovski attended Union County Magnet High School and graduated from John Hopkins University in Baltimore with a degree in public health studies. While applying to medical schools, she said NJMS stood out in her search for medical schools due its proximity to her home and its commitment to community-based and hands-on learning were the principal factors in her decision.
NJMS is one of the two graduate medical schools part of Rutgers Biomedical and Health Sciences along with the Robert Wood Johnson Medical School.
Bogdanovski said she is certain she made the right school pick and is proud to call herself a Scarlet Knight.
“The good thing was that in NJMS, it’s like you are coming into a family. Like everyone is so supportive and helpful,” she said. “Professors and students have been really inclusive and have helped me with the transition.”
Bogdanovski plans to specialize in sports medicine and is considering becoming an orthopedic doctor after graduating. As a swimmer, she said she is aware of the strain that injuries can have on athletes and their careers.
As she adjusts to the demanding pace of medical school, Bogdanovski said she hopes to be able to swim competitively again soon but is taking everything “one day at a time.” Her challenge now is to balance her two dreams.
“As long as you have passion and hard work, you can surprise yourself with what you do,” she said. “As long as you love what you do, it’s worth it. I never knew that I could reach this level — all I knew is that I loved swimming.”
Camilo Montoya-Galvez is a School of Arts and Sciences first-year student majoring in Spanish and journalism and media studies. He is a correspondent for The Daily Targum. Follow him on Twitter @camiloooom.