Sergey Istomin is a man who has turned a disaster in his life into a victory. Though he is the European Weightlifting Champion among disabled athletes, he still cannot win every day battles with curbs and ramps.
It is not just pain that is etched on the face of Sergey Istomin. It is a life fighting against adversity, battling through to conquer his disability and restore his self-esteem.
In 1993 he was working as an armored car guard. One evening at home he was accosted by a group of thugs wanting information about the van's route. They tossed him out of a ninth storey window after failing to get him to talk. Both of his legs were shattered, as well as his life.
“For two years I just survived. I drank, attempted suicide, lived on painkillers,” Sergey told RT. “Then I understood the only way to get out of it was to stop pitying myself.”
Four years after losing use of his legs, Sergey was climbing one of the highest mountains in Europe – Mount Elbrus. More victories came one after another. By age 48, Sergey has won twelve national weightlifting championships.
However, Sergey says professional weightlifting in Russia will not pay the bills. So he started showing off his skills at private parties. But the sport that once was a salvation for Sergey, is now crippling him.
“After some of my shows I pee blood for three days. I have ripped muscles so many times. I do not even remember exactly how many surgeries I have had. But this is how I maintain my self-esteem,” he said.
Sergey says life as a pensioner is not an option. He supports his estranged family – a wife and two children.
He says the most fulfilling moment in his life was when a young man stopped him at a supermarket. The boy had been serving in a young offenders prison where Sergey had performed and that performance changed the young man's life.
Despair is something he ushered out of his life a long time ago, but Sergey says he does feel hopeless when it comes to some of the simple things.
“It is actually terrible in Russia. You go to a store, in most cases, there is no way to get in without someone's help. I have never seen an entrance ramp at a Russian church. I want to go and pray and I cannot,” he said.
“There are 15 million disabled in the country like me, most of them are just rotting in their apartments because there are no amenities,” Sergey added.
And although Sergey can lift more than 200 kilos, bend nails and pans, there is one fight he is still struggling to win – climbing simple curbs.
Kirill Danishevsky from the Russian Society of Evidence-Based Medicine says that the biggest problem for wheel chair users in Russia is that they can’t get out of their homes. But it’s important to remember that there are people with other kinds of disabilities as well.
“There are a large number of people, for instance, who have experienced a stroke and half of their body is paralyzed or not as strong as it used to be. So for them it’s not wheel chair use, but walking with a stick or some other device that becomes a problem,” Danishevsky told RT. “There are a lot of people with eye sight problems, who are either blind or have very poor eye sight, and they experience huge problems, even those who used to be able to walk around very well. The problem for them often is the cars parked on the sidewalks. A lot of them can get out of their house but they can’t get to a metro station because there are a lot of cars and they simply can’t get through even if they know the road very well.”
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