I was born in Russia with congenital deformities. Doctors amputated my left leg when I was a baby. My parents adopted me at 3 and brought me home to the U.S.
I love sports and staying active. In elementary school, I tried soccer, cheerleading and gymnastics, but my prosthetic made it hard. The faster and stronger I got, the more pain I was in. It hurt so much one day playing softball that I took my leg off on the field. I hopped in and told my mom, “No more.”
I started swimming on a competitive team without my prosthetic leg when I was 8. Being in the water without it felt like pure freedom. When I was 12, my good knee started hurting. Other joints, too. Doctors at Children’s National Hospital diagnosed me with an autoimmune disease called juvenile idiopathic arthritis. It causes joint inflammation. Medications made my hair fall out and I felt sick a lot. I thought I might never be able to swim again. That would have been awful. Swimming is one of the only things that makes me forget I’m an amputee.
Dr. Hemalatha Srinivasalu, a pediatric rheumatologist, gave me hope for swimming and that I would be OK. She had my back. She said I was in charge of my body and to trust that I’d know when to rest. I’m 15 now, and swim almost every day. I’m competing in the U.S. Paralympic Team Trials this summer. My events include the 400-meter freestyle, a 200-meter individual medley and the 100-meter backstroke. I hope my swimming gives other kids hope, like Dr. Hema has always given me.
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