Meet the Match

A Russian Paralympian Leads Others to Greatness

Olesya grew up around sports in Moscow, the capital and largest city in Russia. Her mother competed in athletics (track & field) and her father was a cross-country skier.  Olesya’s brother is an ice hockey player. But, from the time she was a young girl, she decided to try something different by competing in swimming.

In early 2008, after 10 years of sustained success in the pool, Olesya was involved in a bus accident in Thailand and lost her left arm. She was afraid it might be the end of her career.  Only five months later, determined to “continue living,” she competed in the 2008 Beijing Paralympics and won a gold medal in 100m breaststroke, setting a new world record in the process.

Olesya added three more medals at the 2012 London Games, to complement the dozen or so she won at different World and European Championships in her career. She now prepares to compete in her third and final Paralympics in Rio de Janeiro this summer.

“I can say that sports really saved my life,” Olesya says. “When I lost my arm, my mental state was so terrible. I didn’t know how I could continue living. Sports helped me realize that I am a full person and that I can dream and achieve.”

Already one of the country’s most accomplished female swimmers and barely in her 30s, Olesya plans for a long and successful future outside of the pool, where she can influence a new generation of Russians to follow in her footsteps and reach the medals stand.

“Being an ambassador at the Sochi Games helped me to realize that sport can really bring changes in my country,” Olesya says. “I want more inclusion. I may be an athlete, but I’m also a Paralympian, which gives me a different perspective. Everyday I see the problems faced by people with disabilities in my country, especially children and their parents.”

Olesya is a prominent advocate within the disability community in Russia, partnering with charities and sharing her story at events around the country, including in the media. She is also an advisor to the head of the Moscow State Department for Physical Culture and Sport and an Honored Master of Sport in Russia for her professional achievements.

At Lakeshore Foundation, Olesya had access to facilities to train for her final Paralympic bid in Rio. More importantly, through mentors Jeff Underwood and Beth Curry, she joined a team of people with extensive experience in policy, advocacy, and education on disability. Their collaboration, as well as the exposure to the research and other resources at Lakeshore, provided Olesya with the tools she needed to influence the education curriculum in Russia, as well as promote inclusion and participation of children with disabilities at the grassroots level across the country.

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