“Smile at difficulties because they make you stronger.” – Slava Kulakovskyi
A few weeks ago, Spartan was thrilled to award Ukrainian Adaptive Athlete Slava Kulakovskyi with a Spartan Spirit Award for his grit, determination, and perseverance. Slava lost his arm up to just below the shoulder in an industrial pressing machine on February 24, 2014, at age 27. He almost died twice, once from blood loss and later from an infection.
Flash forward five years, and Slava’s performance in Spartan’s Trifecta Weekend in Lipno, Czech Republic, in September 2019, was a testament to human willpower. Among many other obstacles, Slava carried a bag of wet sand up and down a massive set of spiral steps, using one arm, core and leg strength, and incredible determination. At his first Spartan Race in Lipno, Slava not only finished the Trifecta but qualified for the The Spartan Trifecta World Championship in Sparta, Greece. At the time of this interview, Slava, who is studying to become a physical therapist, was raising funds to compete in Greece.
What he didn’t know was that the Spartan Race would provide him with free admission to the World Cup (Nov 1-3). This is not only because the Spartan team wanted him to triumph, but also because he exemplifies the idea that you can find the strength in yourself to overcome anything. Here’s his story.
Slava Kulakovskyi On Overcoming Injury
Spartan Race: If it’s not too painful to recount, can you tell us how you were injured?
Slava Kulakovskyi: I worked at a huge factory where I was dealing with meat, and training to be a manger. Accordingly, I needed to study and use all of the production facilities at the plant. One of the main ones was a huge bone grinder (and meat liquefier). The machine was equipped with quick response sensors and safety systems… I was finishing work, washing this machine. . . . I reached for the far filter, and the machine started working. My arm broke over my shoulder. . . It was crushed and twisted above the elbow. . . .For 20 minutes, I was trying to pull myself out because everyone was in a terrible panic. I bled for over an hour, saw it all, and did not shut down. I almost died from the terrible blood loss, and later from an infection.
SR: You were competing in everything from running to weightlifting before the injury. When you woke up in the hospital, how did you cope with your trauma and loss?
SK: My first thought was How will I be able to press a bar? (My medical team) predicted I would be in a coma because of (the amount of) blood loss. But the morning after, I woke up, bound with lots of different tubes. The first person I saw was my surgeon and I asked him how I would train. I had no depression. I just had anger at my body. It didn’t obey me: I was too weak and couldn’t even walk straight in a line. I was getting tired after a two-minute walk and had lost almost 30 kilograms (roughly 66 pounds). Some people came to the hospital and proposed that I train in the Paralympic Reserve. I broke away from the hospital and ran straight to the training with stitches (in). . . I really wanted to train! But my trainer said that I am really crazy (he swore in fact)!. . . . It was my boyhood dream to become a famous sportsman. I couldn’t betray my dreams, so I struggled for them!
What Makes Slava Kulakovskyi Strong
SR: Was there something about your upbringing that made you so resilient?
SK: My father was an athlete and taught children physical education but… I know this sounds strange… he also lost his left hand, and it broke (him). He started taking drugs and alcohol. My mom and I fought for his life but he didn’t survive. . . .He was killed. . . .I worked to help provide for my family from the age of 12. So everyone was in a terrible shock when I lost my hand. . . . I had told my father I would never become like him. I needed to show myself that I could overcome obstacles and have a happy life.
SR: How did you reinvent yourself as an athlete?
SK: I trained in the Paralympic Reserve throwing a spear. My events were javelin throwing and shotput. Then, I began to train with CrossFit. All along, I loved running: it was a cure for my body and soul! After I started running 10 km, 21 km and 42 km, my friend Sologub, who lives in the USA now, advised me to try obstacle course racing. This sport is unpredictable and incredibly emotional, and at first glance, it seems impossible for me. But these are the very things that attracted me. I adore overcoming the impossible.
How Slava Kulakovskyi Became a Spartan
SR: How did you find your way to Spartan?
SK: I saw a video on YouTube and got the dream to perform in a Spartan Race, but I didn’t have the money. My friend Alexey Vovk, a Spartan and top athlete, made my dream come true (He made it possible to compete in Lipno). Now I am keen on running Spartan Races all over the world! Spartan is incredible. I want to test myself and (earn) the Spartan title! I want to help people to overcome difficulties and bring Spartan to Ukraine!
— Spartan Race (@SpartanRace) November 12, 2019