Photo (l-r) Special Olympics athlete Anna Kieeva and her coach Rustam Mavlikeev. Photographer: Martha Jo Braycich
Special Olympics athlete Anna Kireeva, aged 17 from Ulyanovsk in southwest Russia, started out strong and steady in the 200 m snowshoe race during the national competition in Murmansk, held 3-5 March 2012. But half way around the track her luck ran out. She fell. As competitors flew past her, Kireeva picked herself up quickly and started running. Then she fell again. And again. And again. Some of the spills must have hurt as her small body lurched forward, sprawling onto the snow. But each time she got up and took off. In the background she could hear her coach Rustam Mavlikeev, 28, yelling “Run, run, run.” Almost at the finish line, Kireeva fell for the fifth time, hard. People along the track stopped what they were doing and seemed to collectively will the slip of a girl to get up. Once more and a little slowly this time, she picked herself up, somewhat stunned. Then, gathering all the fortitude she could muster, she shot across the finish to the cheers of spectators, and into the arms of her coach.
Afterwards, neither Kireeva nor Mavlikeev was sure why she had tumbled so many times. But it didn’t matter. “We can work on technique but it is Anna’s fighting spirit that was on display today,” said Mavlikeev. “I am very proud of Anna. For me, each time she fell and got up she proved she was a winner,” he said. Kireeva rested unfazed and comfortably against the arm of her coach. The mantra – “run, run, run” – forgotten.