Disability did not prevent a Ukrainian girl from overcoming a tragic past and winning gold at the 2012 Aruba World Para-Taekwondo Championships. But her joy was short-lived. As her coach Yuliya Volkova writes, she needed help.



"My name is Yuliya Volkova. I am 33-years-old, and I am a Ukrainian athlete and coach. I love taekwondo, a sport I had dreamed of since I was seven, but I was not able to start practicing until I was 21.


"Even so, I have been fortunate to compete in a number of tournaments, and won a bronze medal at the European Championships in 2010.


"My coach is my husband, Yuriy Babak, who was the national female team coach from 2001-2007. He is currently secretary general of the Ukraine Taekwondo Federation. As I am a graduate of Zaporizhzhya University in sport, we coach together.


"Three years ago, not far from our dojang, we met a boy with a disability: He only had one arm. His name is Anton, and he was 12. We asked him and his mother if he would like to take up taekwondo. He agreed, and is now a blue belt, who competes across Ukraine.


"He was our dojang's first Para-athlete. We decided to look for more such children, and offer them taekwondo. This made us the first - and so far, the only - dojang offering taekwondo training to the disabled in the country. Now we have seven such children, aged from six to 14, training with us.


"We also have one senior. Her name is Vika. She is our champion and this is her story.


"In December 2011, Viktor Shavlo, a sport teacher at Zaporizhzhya , told us of a girl he knew who was disabled, but seemed a promising potential taekwondo student. That is how we met Vika, or, to give her full name, Viktoriia Marchuk.


"When we first talked to her she was very quiet and shy and was not sure whether she wanted to take up taekwondo - a sport she had never even seen. So we invited her to a New Year's party at the dojang, and showed her some pictures and video from the World Para-Taekwondo Championships. She took some time to think about it.


"In January 2012, she decided to accept our offer. I was immediately impressed by her leg strength and flexibility: She was a natural! As I taught her the kicks and footwork, I really found myself enjoying the teaching. And her talent was not just physical, it was mental, too. From the first, Vika told me that she was there to be a winner. We told her about the upcoming Para-Championship in Aruba in 2012. She said she would do any necessary training to become a champion.





"Perhaps her determination was rooted in her past - for Vika's past is a heart-breaking story. After being born with disabilities in Kiev in 1990 - she has Holt-Oram syndrome and only one arm - the baby Vika was abandoned by her parents. She spent her childhood in an orphanage, a place with terrible facilities.


"Today, Vika does not like to remember or even talk about her lost childhood. She is currently a student at Zaporizhzhya College and is planning to go to Zaporizhzhya National University this summer in order to become a coach in her future. Before coming to taekwondo, she specialised in track and field.


"We knew that she had had a heart operation, and that before she started training, she was under medical supervision. We checked with her doctors; they said that everything was okay. When she started, she was doing taekwondo three times weekly, two hours each session. Then she upped her training to six times a week. Soon, she was training twice a day, for two hours per session. In June 2012, she took part in the first-ever Ukrainian Para-taekwondo Championships, an initiative of my husband.


"In August, we held a training camp in the mountains on the Black Sea coast. It was hard, but Vika did her best. She was motivated to be a champion - a world champion. She spent that summer in our house. I noticed that she did not sleep well. The problem was her shoulder. In September - just two months before the Championships - she had an operation. Within two weeks, although heavily bandaged, she was back in training. This was true force of character.


"By now, Aruba was looming. There is no Governmental support in Ukraine for Para-taekwndo. The trip would be expensive: We needed around $5,000. I looked for sponsors for two months - nothing, not even any interest. Mercifully, we have friends, who gave us some money for flight tickets. Even so, it was not enough.


"Fortunately, I had a friend in Germany. In July I had been invited to Germany for two training camps to help the female athlete Sümeyye Manz to prepare for the Olympics. At that time, I spoke with her uncle, Özer Gülec, about my training of children with disabilities. He said then, that if I needed help, to ask him. So I did...


"And in November, I competed at the Swiss Open, where I was fortunate enough to win a bronze. Athletes from Nuremburg Taekwondo Club Özer, hearing Vika's story, generously donated some of their own money.


"With all this assistance from friends and fellow athletes, our Aruba dream could be realised.


"The flight was a long one - and the first overseas trip for Vika. I worried about her shoulder, but she looked confident. Aruba proved beautiful. The hotel was excellent, all the people were very kind. Next morning we had training, then weigh-in and registration. I was very nervous, but tried not to show it to Vika. I had a bad night...


"The big day arrived. Vika seemed even more focused than usual. The Opening Ceremony was hot and loud. I could hear Vika whispering to herself, 'I must win, win'.


"Her first match was easy enough and by 3pm, she was ready for the final. Then we heard that her match had been put back: It would be the last bout of the day. Finally, the hour arrived. Vika stepped onto the mat. Could a girl with only nine months of training fight at this level of competition?


"She rose to the occasion. Gold! The disabled girl who had been abandoned at birth was at last a champion.


"It was Ukraine's first-ever medal in Para-taekwondo, and the first-ever medal for Ukraine in a Senior World Championship. We were ecstatic and all our friends shared our delight. I had never seen Vika looking joyful. Now, at last, I did. Sport - in this case, taekwondo - truly has the power to realise dreams and to change lives.


Ukarine's Viktoriia Marchuk (left) has overcome real adversity in her short life, including being abandoned as a baby, to become a three-time world champion ©WTFUkarine's Viktoriia Marchuk (left) has overcome real adversity in her short life, including being abandoned as a baby, to become a world champion ©WTF


"Back home, the euphoria soon evaporated. In Ukraine, we were told that it was a 'random gold medal'. Moreover, the Ministry told us there were few athletes and few countries competing in Aruba. So no. There would be no prize money. No training grants. No financial support for the next world championships.


"We were unhappy, but got back into training. That is when even worse news hit us. Vika's shoulder was in pain. We found that her operation had been unsuccessful. Her condition deteriorated; she has cysts on her shoulder and is in constant pain. Ukrainian doctors are unable to help her.


"This is Vika's story, up to 2013. She is a fine student, a gifted athlete, a tribute to our sport. Life has not been kind to her. She deserves better... hence this story."