“A few months ago, I won the Silver Medal at the Sochi Paralympics. In the gym where I have my practices, in the town of Aleksin, a banner stands: “You don’t win a Silver medal, you lose a Gold medal”. That is, there’s still a long way ahead of me.
“When I was three, I was visiting my grandmother, in the Kursk Oblast. I was running outside from home. But while running, I inadvertently opened the door and slipped. And so I fallen under a truck loaded with bricks. I only remember that I woke up already in the truck’s cab. We were three: I, mama, and the driver. I ask mama why she’s crying, and she replies that all will be good. I don’t remember anything else. I had my left leg amputated. After they visited me, the driver gifted me a toy, a Cipollino muppet.
Amputee, Disabled – these words are nothing terrible to me.
“And thus began my life of a man with infinite possibilities. Amputee, Disabled – these words mean nothing terrible to me. In our team we call each other “Kalich”. From the word “Kaleka.” (Note: in contemporary Russian, a word that simply defines a handicapped person.) I attended a normal school, and I never felt myself unconfortable. A lot of my team mates, when they get to know girls, can hide for long time that, for example, they have no legs. Instead, they say that they have a strange gait, because the day before they stepped on a nail. I met my wife when we visited Sweden for a tournament, she was our translator. I already decided to take her to a tour of Stockholm, even with my broken English. I wanted to give her a good impression. And it looks like I succeeded.
“I still remember my first practice. They offered me to play Amputee Football. I was just 11 when I seen for the first time how many guys had my same problem. And they were all running and jumping around. It was great to be there. I thought that an invalid had to stay at home, and look what’s happening there!
“At some point my dad told me: “Son, you’re bad at school. I need you to stop playing football.” So I promised him to start doing well at school again. And I was back. He kept his word, but I did not. I finished the school with a bare C in Chemistry, Algebra, and Russian Language. But anyway I attended the Moscow Regional College Of Physical Education in the adaptive physical education department. But I’m not sure I’ll work on this industry. I’m planning getting a second degree to become a politician and make our world a little bit better. You see, I’ve got quite big plans!
“In 2008 I attended the Beijing Olympics just as a tourist. And there I got the idea to participate at the Paralympics! But Amputee Football isn’t included in the Paralympic program. So in Beijing I dediced to get myself to a new sport. I fancied about athletics. I thought I could become a runner. But when I got back to Russia, some prosthesis specialists told me that with my characteristics, achieving some significant result would have been unlikely. My leg is amputated all way up to the hip, so there isn’t much leverage. Then I tried table tennis. But there you need to be different from me, sinewy, sharp. So I quickly realized that I could do nothing there, even if I do like that sport. And so after a couple of months they invited me to the Phoenix hockey team.
“In sledge hockey each player keeps a stick in each hand. The stick has a pick at one end to help you moving, and a blade on the other end to play the puck.
After the first two turns with the sled, I hit the boards…
“I was very slim. All the guys in the team kept taking fun of me, asking how could I be that way. Then I pumped up, and I became the Captain of the National Team. Back in 2009, they just established the Phoenix team. They called us to a camp. They left us without the sled for a week. We did some specific athletic practices, and played basketball and volleyball. We watched some videos on the internet about sledge hockey. When they gave us the sled, we couldn’t understand how to maneuver it. The instructions were in English, so we needed to sort things out. We tried understanding it by the logics.
“They we had our equipment. When you wear it you feel like it’s already a practice itself. And instead of our special sticks, we had normal ones. We had to work them manually. I remember the first time we hit the ice like it was today. I was watching Vanya Berdnik, how good he was in maneuvering the sled! So I thought that I was going to show everyone how to do it. And after the first two turns, I hit the boards. I was terribly frightened. Maybe I broke my sled? Well, It turned out they are very solid…
“Then I ended up in the National Team. How did I end up there? It was fun. There were already four sledge hockey teams [in Russia]. But for the National Team you are literally recruited. We needed to get to Estonia for a tournament and they called each player with an international passport. Thanks God, I had it. We lost that tournament with a total score of 0:45. I don’t want to think about that tournament, in three games we only had one shot on goal. Then after five months we started playing better. We kept on losing, of course, but not with such scores. We lost like 0:1, 3-5, not bad. One year later we participied to the European Championship. Of course we went there for the Gold medal, but we ended up on the seventh place. And we felt the improvement of the team.
“And then, the World Championship Group B, that we won. There is this system: the first two teams from the Group B go up to the Group A, the elite level. Canada, USA, Italy, Korea, Czech Republic, Norway. But even in the Group A it wasn’t terrible like we thought. We aimed at the third place, and we ended up third.
We simply could not perform bad in Sochi.
“And then, Sochi. We all understood that we could not perform bad. We simply could not. It was very exciting. When we went for our first game and seen full stands for the first time, we were shocked. We never played in front of such a huge crowd. But then i said myself: “Well, here we go!” And the jitters pretty much went away by itself. And we played like it was the last fight.
“We lost our fist game, thus we got really nervous. Frankly speaking, we thought that we were going home already. Our coaches got us quieter: we needed to win the other two games to get to the knock-out round. Then we destroied Team Italy, beaten Team USA and got there.
“Of course we are all disappointed that we got the Silver medal, and not the Gold medal, in Sochi. We could really win. But many said that we’re better off like that, because now we have a bigger aim in front of ourselves. I really want to win the Gold. Now we only have to wait the next Paralympics. We have no other choice.
“When I got back home after Sochi, it has been all celebrations, honoring. Just like other Olympians. They awarded me with a car. Thank you, by the way! I used it a lot already. They also awarded us with money. But I can’t say that after Sochi much has changed. Yes, now I can, for example, bring my wife to Corsica, but that’s all. The pre-season will start in about a month. We’ll start over again. Toward the Gold medal. And the career as politician. As I said, it’s very important to me. I want make our country even better. Not only in sports, but in general.