This has to be my first key to success. I am very determined. I never wanted to be held back, even when I was little. When I was young, I saw these kids going up this hill at a park near our house, and I still remember specifics from that day. For those kids, it was easy. But for me, my legs didn’t move like their legs did. I had trouble walking on anything that wasn’t level. I said to myself, “I am going to get up that hill!” I spent that whole day working on getting up that hill until I could do it. I kept falling down, again and again. But I got to the top of that hill. I could do something that those kids could do – that kids with legs could do. Everyone should have determination.
This is a big thing for me. Before Beijing, I had my goals everywhere – my cell phone, the mirror, my laptop, the ceiling. I changed the name of my Internet Explorer to “My Goals.” Even before I go to bed, I visualize the finish of my race, even victoriously throwing my hand up in the air after I touch the wall. I have to see things in my head. That really helps me. At practice I’ll finish a really hard set, and I’ll pretend there’s a board up there with my winning time.
A lot of people wish they could do something well. But you have to practice. You will have days when you hate it, and days when you love it. But you have to stick with it. I am not a morning person. I don’t like waking up and jumping in a cold pool. So I wake up and think of it as a giant hot tub.
Having a support system in place is important. Before I learned how to drive, I had to rely on someone to get me to practice. My parents have done so much for me in a lot of ways, and taking me everywhere was just one thing they did. My dad has even stayed home from vacations so I could practice. Also, I have my sisters and the rest of my family at every meet to cheer me on. It’s adorable to see how much they appreciate me. I also have a grandfather who drove me when my parents couldn’t, which is great.
I am a Christian. I believe God has a plan for everyone. I believe God had a plan for me to be adopted from Russia, to come to the United States and become a Paralympic swimmer. Part of His plan is for me to inspire people, whether they have a disability or not.