Benefits of cross-country skiing go beyond the track

Special Olympics athlete Sergey Sizyukhin says cross-country skiing has changed his life.

Sergey Sizyukhin

Photo: Special Olympics Russia athlete Sergey Sizyukhin. Photographer: Martha Jo Braycich

Sergey Sizyukhin, 17, did not take to cross-country skiing immediately when his mother enrolled him the in adapted sports school for children and youths with disabilities in Murmansk 10 years ago.

His balance and coordination were off and he didn’t have the physical strength to stay on his skis for more than 10 minutes.

His coach Irina Uzintseva, 47, would kneel on the ground in front of him and move backward, gently holding the skis in her hands and sliding one after the other, coaxing him forward.  Slowly Sizyukhin began to get the hang of cross-country skiing, training four times a week in two-hour sessions.

The training paid off; at the national Murmansk competition, held 3-5 March 2012, he competed in the 50 m and 100 m races. Sizyukhin cut a dashing figure, resplendent in a white ski suit trimmed in deep red. His mother was at work so it was his personal care-giver Irina Uzintseva who brought him to the competition.  “Sergey has made great progress since going to the adapted sports school,” said Uzintseva.

“The doctors were amazed at how healthy Sergey has become.  He is physically stronger and he can focus better. Most of all he is very happy,” she said. “And, he is truly loved by his parents and five-year-old brother,” she added. 

Sizyukhin, who is autistic, was shy and quiet at the venue, inching forward on his skis at random in the competition area. It was not until he was in a nearby café and had a cup of tea and a sweet roll in front of him that he burst into an animated, blow-by-blow account of the race he had just completed, obviously pleased with his performance.