The first female Paralympian representing the country since 1980

Vladyslava speaks about her experience as the first female Paralympian representing the country since 1980, as well as studying and working as an accountant.

I was born in Ukraine and moved to Malta with my family when I was 9. While growing up, I was introduced to various sports and competed at junior regional and national championships in rhythmic gymnastics in Ukraine. I was injured at the age of 17 when a metal scaffolding collapsed on a crowd at a public event in Malta in 2008.

Despite the injury, I was still determined to lead an active, independent and healthy life. I was in and out of hospital for the first four years after my injury, but I still successfully completed sixth form with my classmates and started studying ACCA. I also wanted to get back to sport, and watching the Paralympic Games in London in 2012 helped me find my way back. The Paralympic movement helped me realise that many of our limitations are self-imposed and our will is much more powerful than any adversity.

I joined the Malta National Paralympic team in 2013, while continuing my studies and working. Locally, many athletes have to combine their day job, studies and pursue their sporting dreams. I have been extremely lucky to find support from my colleagues and partners at PwC Malta, who provided me with the flexibility needed in order to achieve my goals. This culture of flexibility at PwC has allowed me to progress academically, professionally and on a personal level. I also received support from the SportMalta Flexi-training scheme.

Nonetheless, the journey to Rio was a huge challenge, which entailed endless commitment and self-discipline. Becoming the first ever female swimmer and the first female athlete since 1980 to represent Malta at the Paralympic Games and also qualifying as a certified Chartered Accountant in the same year was a big reward for me.

Sport helps us develop emotional maturity, mental resilience and gain confidence in our abilities. Sport teaches us many important life skills: what it takes to be part of a team, how to compete fairly and also how to win and lose with dignity. Inevitably, all of these lessons are transposed into our personal and professional lives at work.

During the past two years, I also had a great opportunity to work with the European Paralympic Committee as a Youth Ambassador and raise awareness about para-sport in our community, encouraging greater grassroots participation and inspiring youths to continue training at an elite level. Last year I was part of the #BeActive 2016 campaign, led by SportMalta, as a National Sport Ambassador. Involvement in these projects motivated me and a group of Maltese athletes to set up “Malta Youth Athletes Network” – a non-governmental, voluntary organisation which works towards representing the interests of member athletes and designs projects that can contribute to the development of sport in Malta.

This year turned out to be very special for me, as I was selected as the winner of the Queen’s Young Leaders Award for my commitment to raising awareness about adapted sport. The award was presented by Her Majesty the Queen at a ceremony in London in June, where recognition was given to 60 young people aged between 18 and 29 from around the Commonwealth who are working hard to drive change within their communities. It was a privilege for me to be among the selected winners, who are leading projects and tackling global issues which include education, climate change, gender-equality, mental health and disability equality, amongst others. We received unique mentoring and training through the Leading Change course, which was developed by the University of Cambridge’s Institute for Continuing Education specifically for this programme. It was an unforgettable experience to me, though the award itself belongs to every single individual and organisation that supports my initiatives and to whom I will always be grateful.

Every single experience that I’ve had as an athlete, whether rewarding or disappointing, has enriched my life. Now, as a Paralympian, I wish to encourage our younger generation to find their passion and to support them in realising their potential in sport.

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