A Cheetah Born of Chernobyl

   A few months ago, I was asked to exhibit my art in a January show titled I Believe.  
I believe in tons of things. In particular, I believe in the power of belief itself, but I wanted to focus on things that inspire stronger belief. My first piece in the show is about Falling
I believe in the brilliant quiet of autumn and in graceful relinquishment. I believe in falling in love, I believe in letting go. I believe in falling down when the season calls.
Tatsiana "Tanya" Khvitsko running a 1/2 marathon.
I also believe in getting back up and pressing on.
 I have long been drawn to the courage and perseverance of the underdog. Those special few that fight with a fierce tenacity when the odds are seemingly set against them. All of us have excuses that hold us back from pursuing things that could bring us immense joy. Sometimes, we just need a reality check and a little kick in the rear to push us out of our comfort zone and into the space of the unknown. A space that challenges and then empowers us.

  I am not lithe, I am not fast, but I am a runner. As a member of a facebook group for women that run, I am often encouraged by the posts sharing ladies' struggles and triumphs. It was in that group that I was first inspired by a runner that has overcome one of the most fundamental setbacks possible; Tatsiana Khvitsko was born without legs.

 "Tanya" rocking a 10 k in Kansas City. A "Child of Chernobyl", she was born in Belarus with severe physical disabilities due to the Ukrainian nuclear disaster .
I was inspired by Tatsiana (she goes by Tanya) so I contacted her to learn more and get permission to paint a portrait of her and share her story.  Here are the questions I asked and her responses:

Tell us your story.

 I was born in 1990 in the little town of Nesvizh, Belarus, four years after the Chernobyl Nuclear disaster. Like so many other children born with severe disabilities, I will forever be known as a “Child of Chernobyl”. My disability of not having my lower legs and some of my fingers was very obvious and extremely rare. But it didn’t make me a weak person; instead it has caused me to be a strong person who can overcome almost anything.
 When I was born, my parents were told that they should not take me home with them because of the severity of my birth defects. Luckily I came home to my parents when I was 4 years old. At age 5, along with many other disabled children, I was placed in boarding schools for kids with disabilities; that is where I spent most of the years at the school with only a few visits from my family. For me it was my second home, for many it was their only home.
 At the age of six, I made my first trip to the US, Kansas City with a group of other Chernobyl Children with Project Restoration.
Tanya, age 6, first time in the U.S.!
At that time, when I arrived I was unable to communicate in English. My fear and uncertainty caused me to misbehave in many ways. I often pulled the tails of my host families’ cats and I even hit the other children at times. Despite these actions, the host families still loved me and did their best to guide and help me. From their perspective, it probably was not easy having a little Belarusian girl living with them for six weeks – especially one with such severe physical disabilities.

 When I returned to Belarus at the end of each summer, my school years were spent at the boarding school for disabled children. The school became my second home. I did everything most children get to do and there were opportunities not available in the regular public school, like singing, dancing on a wheelchair and participating in Special Olympics for Ping-Pong. I loved this school because we were equal. However, I went for long periods of time without seeing my family and having their support close by. But at the same time I remember going home for holidays and it was hard for me because I was not used to being home and my family just didn’t see me as a normal kid. So back and forth I went - from Belarus to America…from my boarding school to home and back again.
 My life was filled with change and transition. I completed my high school classes at the same boarding school and would not have had the opportunity to attend any college in Belarus.

Luckily, with help of my American host families and many other contacts, it was determined that it might be possible for me to attend college here in the U.S. if I pass the TOEFL and score well enough to get accepted to the college and luckily I did it. I attended Cottey during the 2008-09 & 2009-10 school years and received my Associates Degree in 2010. The following two years I attended MidAmerica Nazarene University (MNU) in Olathe, Kansas where I graduated with honors in Communication and received my Bachelor of Science degree in Corporate Communication in the spring of 2012.

 Being part of the community has also given me opportunities to volunteer and give back to those who have helped me so much and to help those in need, especially those with similar backgrounds, disabilities and dreams like mine. I volunteered at Camp Barnabas where I assisted special needs
children and adults. And when kids from Belarus visit the US, I would always help with translating and mentoring.

Tell us about your running.
 I adore running!
Three years ago I received my first set of running legs through POA, FL.
When I put these legs on for the very first time and ran, I felt like I was flying. I was running so fast - someone had to hold me to stop me. Since then, I ran at least 20- 5K’s, 6- 10K’s, and just recently I completed my first half-marathon (13.1m) - it was probably one of the hardest things I’ve ever done but it was totally worth it.
Photo credit- Jeff Mullikin, www.jeffmullikin.com
 When I run – I am a completely different person. I feel like I am so powerful and strong.
When I run, I love the feeling of the wind toward me! I love just listening to my music and be in my own world – it’s quite incredible! Running made me a strong and a positive person. I’ve always been a fighter, a hard worker and I always loved to achieve something and I will do my best to be on top of everything I do.

What inspires you?
 Successful people with incredible backgrounds, positive thoughts and puppies!
People that worked hard to overcome something yet today they are great role models!
It can be anyone; from a little girl who overcame cancer to a grandpa who lived thru the war.
I don’t like choosing favorites because everyone has a story and everyone’s story is inspiring!

What has been your biggest challenge? 
 There are many challenges in life that I have. Just being a runner and wearing two prosthetic legs is not that easy. I am a very competitive person and I always have to remind myself that I am an amputee and that I do have prosthetic legs so I can’t just force myself to run if I am in a lot of pain. I have to be always cautious of not getting any blisters or irritations on my limbs.

 Finally, I have to always make sure to have the bolts tightened on my prosthesis or I can get hurt if the bolts loosen.
 My other challenge… well, it’s not really a challenge just more of a “girl” concern. We take some many things for granted. Even though I am an athlete, I am still somewhat girly. I love wearing dresses and skirts but I don’t look as pretty in dresses as non-amputees and can’t wear heels. I have always been told by non-amputees that it is hard to wear heals or they are painful – but it is different for me because I don’t get to experience that. Maybe heels are painful or not fun to wear – you still wear them… I can’t. Yes, silly comment, but every girl with prosthesis will have the same thought.

 What's your biggest dream? 
 My biggest dream? Become a millionaire and pay it forward! I want to be able to help others in any way I can - either financial support or mental. I want to be successful in life through hard work. I want to show others that it’s okay to miss some limbs and still live in the world like a fully limbed person! I want for others to see that world is a beautiful thing – and if we don’t take things for granted and just appreciate what we have and maybe even share something that we have – the world can be a peaceful place!
Yes, not everyone would do this – but if we try, one person at the time – changes can be made!

What's the best advice you were ever given?
To remember that there is always someone else who can't do as much I do! To remember that there is always someone else who has less than you. To remember that you live once. Don't just live the life - enjoy it!

D. Renée Wilson, watercolor mixed media, 2013.

Thank you, Tanya, for being such an inspiration and giving so much back to the world. 
Keep on running!  <3


No comments :

Post a Comment

Artwork & Play. * BLOG TEMPLATE DESIGN BY Labinastudio.