Intermediate High/ A Guest of Honor at the Sochi Olympics

 

This episode is especially aimed at those who watched the Olympic Opening Ceremony 2014 and were intrigued by a woman seated next to President Putin. Her name is Irina Skvortsova and she is a former bobsledder, retired from sports after a life-threatening injury. In the interview taken last year Irina talks about her life, fate and sport.

Sport has always been an essential part of 25 year old Irina. She began formal gymnastics training at 4 years old. At 20 she switched to bobsledding. Irina was at the very beginning of her professional career in bob-sleigh racing when her life was turned upside down. On November 8, 2009 she suffered terrible injuries through no fault of her own. Her bobsled collided with another sled when two slides went down the track simultaneously, due to the German referee turned on a wrong start light. Munich surgeons performed an emergency operation, but nobody could guarantee Irina’s recovery. Doctors planned to amputate her right leg, which received the most serious injuries in the accident; and said the amputation would raise her chances of recovering. Eventually, Irina was placed in an induced coma for a month and a half while the doctors performed muscle tissue transplantation on the her right leg. In a result of 50 operations, including the removal of blood clots in her leg and multiple skin grafts, German doctors managed to bring Irina back to life and save her badly injured leg.  

However, there have been problems with her insurance. She was insured under a tourist policy, which would only pay out a few thousand euros in case of injury. After just a few days of treatment her insurance funds had already dried up. To pay her medical bills about 20K euros were raised by donors. Irina’s story got huge media attention, which helped raise money for her recovery. There were no charity involved, but her relatives opened accounts in Germany and Russia and people just genuinely wanted to help the athlete by transferring money for her treatment.  Along with the individuals, she had also received money from the Moscow government. Treatment, including plasic surgeries, cost some 100K euros. Surely, Skvortsova's case had a positive effect for the future of Russian sportsmen who are seriously injured. Soon after this accident it was announced that all athletes traveling abroad will now be insured for 300,000 euros.

Everyone who would cover her story wrote about German surgeons who saved the girl who was supposed to lose her leg, and about Irina’s character, optimism, self-esteem and awareness of her own strengths. The German doctors did an extraordinary job, saving her life and her leg; however she was told she would be bound to wheelchair for the rest of her life. Then, slowly but surely, her athlete mentality took over as she wanted to come back badly; and gradually and very slowly she recovered. As the doctors stated, her rehabilitation was a one in a hundred case.

Her story has a happy ending as a media campaign brought her plight to the nation, and her medical costs were eventually paid. However, not every injured athlete gets such attention and public support, and other people in the same situation often face obscurity. Also, as this case shows, there are still many issues to be settled. There are many charities in Russia, but none dealing specifically with athletes, especially in case of a severe trauma. Moreover, in Russia, there is no such a concept as investing in athletes, so most Russian athletes have to invest their own money in their career, which is different, of course, with well-paid athletes. That’s why Irina thought to set up a foundation to help disabled athletes. The foundation she is contemplating is not only to provide assistance for the disabled and not exclusively for fundraising but also to deal with underlying issues of bureaucracy. 

Last year she had been offered to host a TV show for people who have to start over, to resume their life from scratch due to a disaster (such as road accident, for example).  As one who knows what a wheel-chair person may face in Moscow, she wants to help by using her case, her experience, her popularity to attract publicity and awareness of the attitude toward the disabled. Oddly enough, most of the people think it is normal for the disabled to sit home and not go out. She admitted that the situation remains really challenging as there is still little to no access ramps or special elevators for the disabled in Moscow, but only curbs and steps.

Today Irina Skvortsova is a graduate student at the Moscow Pedagogical Institute in “sports psychology” and turns on two jobs. She also thinks how to ensure the better environment for people in a situation like hers.