The 2020 Tokyo Paralympics are just around the corner, and for the first time since 1980, Malta will be sending two Paralympians to compete in the competition.
Lovin Malta spoke to Vladyslava Kravchenko, Paralympian and chairperson of the Malta Paralympics Athletes’ Council, ahead of her participation in the Tokyo Paralympics, to learn more about her inspirational journey leading up to the competition.
Kravchenko’s love for sports started out at a very young age, when she competed in rhythmic gymnastics until she moved to Malta with her family at the age of nine.
Her life changed dramatically when she injured her spinal cord in 2008 after a metal scaffolding collapsed on a crowd at a public event in Qawra – and swimming became a major part of her rehabilitation process.
“I used to do sports for fun, not on a competitive level,” Kravchenko told Lovin Malta. “And then when I got injured at the age of seventeen, I started swimming for rehabilitation purposes. After watching the Paralympics in London, I then decided I wanted to compete in the next games.”
After the accident, swimming was one of the few things that she could do outside of her wheelchair.
“When you’re spending the whole day sitting down, getting out and swimming feels liberating. In the water, everyone’s equal. It’s a beautiful sport.”
It took years for Kravchenko to get used to using a wheelchair – she actually says it was one of the most difficult things that she had to deal with after her accident.
“Thirteen years ago, it was just awful,” she said. “When you’ve never experienced life from a chair, and then you’re left with no choice. You start to encounter so many issues in terms of accessibility, with things that you always took for granted.”
Her situation would eventually start to improve, and infrastructural changes started to be seen in Malta in order to facilitate access for wheelchair users and other citizens with reduced mobility.
“Once the facilities at the national pool were renovated, the situation became much better. And I see the difference from when I initially started – before there was hardly anyone that would train with a physical impairment, nowadays there are at least ten para swimmers who train with our Exiles Sports Club alone.”
She highlighted that more people appear to be becoming more aware of the issues, not just in terms of infrastructure but also in terms of mentality and individual awareness.
“While the efforts to improve accessibility in our infrastructure at a national level are commendable, these are all in vain unless at an individual level we do not make a conscious choice to respect every citizen in our society and avoid things like parking in
designated parking slots or obstructing ramps and access to pavements with our cars and waste bags.”
The recent annual report published by the Commission for the Rights of Persons
with Disabilities in Malta showed that 70 percent of all planning applications
submitted to the Commission for approval in 2020 did not meet the required
accessibility standards and were rejected.
This shows that today the developers are urged to think about accessibility not just as a box-ticking exercise, but improve our environment to an adequate standard and make it inclusive for everyone,” she said.
Kravchenko lamented that there still seems to be confusion in Malta between the Special Olympics and Paralympics, which might be hindering the growth of the movement locally.
“The key difference between Special Olympics and Paralympics is that Special Olympics is for athletes with intellectual impairment, whereas Paralympics is primarily for individuals with physical impairments.”
Kravchenko has been training rigorously ahead of her participation in the Paralympics, with her average week having up to thirty hours of training.
“My training regime includes different aspects apart from swimming, including strength conditioning, pilates – so it’s quite a holistic program.”
She has also been in the process of completing a Masters’s degree in sports management, politics and international development at Loughborough University, as part of her Malta sports scholarship.
Kravchenko had to sacrifice parts of her social life due to having such a demanding training schedule, but said it was all worth it.
“Throughout the years, I realised that it is all worth every second.”
Kravchenko called for all individuals to get into sports, even just simply on a recreational level.
“It’s extremely important for everyone’s psychological and physical wellbeing and the benefits are endless.”
Kravchenko will be competing in the 2020 Tokyo Paralympics in the coming weeks, in the female ‘S5’ para-swimming category in the 50m backstroke and 50m butterfly respectively – and we’ll be watching her all the way.
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