Our Stories

Galina Pavlova – Defiant Power of the Human Spirit

Posted by:


Galina Pavlova (Voitsekhovskaya)

My acting skills began to emerge starting in early childhood. I sang a lot, danced, composed and staged various scenes. When I was in school, I started performing in the Theatre of Youth Creativity at the Palace of Pioneers. After finishing school I went to the Theatre Institute, where I studied in the acting department with a specialization in pantomime. I graduated with honors in 1980 and was invited to Lenconcert. There I met Vycheslav Polunin, the famous founder of “Slava’s Snowshow” and creater of the clown “Asisyai”. At that time he was developing his theatre “Litsedei” and invited me to work there. I worked with that wonderful team for seven years. We performed a lot and with great happiness, travelled all over the country, organized street performances, acted in films, took part in international festivals, and were loved by the audience. In 1992 I was invited to work at the St. Petersburg State Theatre “Rock-Opera”.  The theatre’s repertoire included plays like “Juno and Avos,” “Orpheus and Eurydice,” “Jesus Christ Superstar,” “Romeo and Juliet” and others. In the course of my twenty years there I played many different roles.

In addition to the theatre there was one more hobby in my life. In 2006 I first encountered horses and fell in love with them. I started taking horseback riding lessons. It was not just a sport. I liked communicating with the horses; they’re a part of nature for me, a “guide” to it. I even dreamt of connecting my future life with horses. It was not easy to combine constant theatre touring with training. But I managed to do it. Between performances I would run to the stable to a beautiful white horse named Maika. And when I was touring in different cities, my first question would be “where do you have horses here?” and then I would run to train at a local riding club.

In 2010 my life changed dramatically. I was diagnosed with cancer. An operation, radiation and chemotherapies followed. The treatment lasted for half a year and was very difficult. After every intravenous infusion it took two weeks to recover, and in the third week, as soon as I started to feel better, I would put a wig on my bald head and rush back on to the stage.

Another half a year passed, and on the 1st of September of 2011 there was another blow – a stroke, after which the left side of my body was paralyzed. I spent half a year in bed, but worked continually to recover with the help of medical treatment, massage, remedial gymnastics, and rehabilitation in a medical center. But mainly what helped was that I knew what I had to recover for, and I had the appropriate mindset for recovery. I wanted to come back to life very much, to be independent, not to burden others with taking care of me. And also, I have always been and I am now a very active person. I was not ready to accept the fact that I would be confined to a wheelchair. A disease may change life, but it does not stop it.

But it was not enough just to decide. Stroke and paralysis trigger a kind of inner laziness. As if there is some obstacle inside, as if something prevents you from doing what you need to do, something that might be called “inner inertia.” And I really had to pull myself together, make myself do something, demonstrate the willpower.

Half a year later, when I had started to be able to move slowly, I began to do hippotherapy once a week. My friends helped a lot and brought me to the lessons. Hippotherapy is a well-known and  very effective method of recovering motor function, as during horseback riding all the main muscle groups are engaged. It activates not only motor function, but also breathing and blood circulation. Moreover, communication with the horses gives enormous pleasure and generates positive energy. I remember at the first session I had to be literally loaded onto the horse. I realized that I was not able to sit in the saddle the way I used to do before, but I really wanted to get back my former abilities. And at a certain point it occurred to me that there are athletes with limited abilities.

Soon after that, in March 2013, I met a senior trainer of the Russian equestrian dressage Paralympic team and began to train under her supervision. I had to get used to my body all over again. None of my previous abilities to control the horse worked any longer. I had to learn how to manage the horse using my right hand and right leg only. My horse also had to learn to understand signals coming only from one side. Generally, adapting to learn to control an animal with a body like mine is a creative process indeed. For example, my non-functioning leg is tied to the saddle, my bad arm is tied to my body, and, in order to control the horse using only one hand, a special rein with a crosspiece had to be made.

The trainer suggested I begin competing. That was absolutely unexpected for me. After two and a half months of training I took part in my first Paralympic competition at the Open Championship of Moscow, where in one of the three events I won first prize. In the autumn of 2013 at the Championship of Moscow I was a bronze medalist. I continued to train actively and was able to achieve that result again a year later. So my regular training and striving to do my very best resulted in athletic achievement. Also, thanks to the training, my recovery process is going on quite actively, my muscles are coming back to life.

With regard to “inner stimulation,” which helps one not to succumb to a disease, but to search instead for ways of fighting it in order to recover – for me it is most of all about being able to understand that nothing happens by chance, and that it all is God’s will. So when sorrows and illnesses come, you should not ask “why me?”, but rather “for what purpose has God given this to me?”

There are people who stop doing things when they encounter a problem. For me it works differently. I freeze for a moment in the very beginning, concentrate and pull myself together – and then I start to look for a solution. A problem pushes me to act. The same thing happened when I was diagnosed with cancer; there was a moment of confusion, a stop – life became frozen. But then the thought came that it was really God’s mercy. As if I had been told that from that moment a countdown had started, and I should value the time allotted to me, I should live more consciously, as the finish may come at any moment. We know that passing away from this life is inevitable, but while we are still healthy, we don’t think about it often. Diseases and other sorrows force us “to think about eternity” and be more conscious and responsible with regard to everyday life, every action, every word. I had enough time to think. It was an inner dialogue, a moment of reassessment, a moment of revealing what is most important for me in life. I also was looking for an answer to the question “what do I  still have left in spite of the illness?”

A person’s disease also affects the people surrounding him, it gives them an opportunity to show their love and care. Helping a close one, a person becomes more kind. My relatives, friends and acquaintances have actively shown their empathy and helped me, and they are still helping me in everything. I am also inspired by the examples of other people who have courageously overcome difficulties and illnesses without losing their optimism. For example, Nick Vuychich, who was born without hands and legs, but who is living a full life now, travelling all over the world, speaking in front of people, telling about himself, energizing people with his optimism and faith.

My recovery after the stroke is still going on. As you know, it is not a quick process. There have been no oncological complications, and, though after chemotherapy my body has become very weak, my hand has started to function better, my leg allows me to walk more confidently, my blood pressure is more stable, my heart is beating more calmly, and the noise in the head is quieter. My health is coming back slowly. I continue to train and get ready again for the Championship of Russia.

Saint Vasily Kineshemsky said: “A person’s cross is made exactly to his measurements, and only our impatience, rebelliousness and vehemence make it heavy”.

Thanks be to God for everything!

This is part of a story series from the exhibit “Defiant Power of the Human Spirit”

Read Galina’s story in Russian.