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In my many years of counselling I have worked with victors and victims. The whiners usually have good health and wealth but cry that fate gave them a lemon; the winners squeeze life’s lemons and make lemonade.

Let me tell you the story of Yelena, a very brave women, who has beaten the odds and is a true victor.

Early in the morning you can see her leading her aerobic class at the London downtown Y. She is a five foot two, 100 pound dynamo who has a passion for fitness. Her seemingly effortless dance routine reminds one of a ballerina moving to music. Like Muhammad Ali she "floats like a butterfly and stings like a honey bee".

Here is her story that she told me with the help of a English/ Russian dictionary. Yelana’s mother abandoned her when she was but a few days old on the door-step of an orphanage on New Years in Moscow. It was a typical Russian wintery freezing day. Mom didn’t even take the time to ring the bell to get assistance.

In the beginning Yelana longed for her mom to take her home. It never ever happened. She was one of 500 children who spent their days in a very strict military like atmosphere. Twenty girls to a room with very few personal amenities One bathroom for her group with the opportunity to shower only on Saturdays.

The dining hall provided adequate meals that were very predictable; every Monday there was borsh and Tuesday kasha. Apples, candy and ice cream were treats that occurred only once a year.

Yelena attended classes in her orphanage six days a week from 8-2.30. Study and homework took place from 4-7. Lights out at 9. There were very strict set of rules that you obeyed.

Running around the block allowed her to escape the confines and gave her a sense of salvation. Yelena was entered into week-end sprints and won the coveted red ribbons. She had found her niche. She was fast, A track coach discovered her talents and she moved into a high school residential program that emphasised sports. There was a scholarship of 50 rubles($1.00) per week. To help pay for her expenses she worked in a factory from ten p.m. to five a.m. three days a week.

Yelana persevered at sports and school and represented her country at international meets in the USA.

She married a the age of 20 and had two daughters. Her husband was killed in a car accident 13 years later. It is hard being a 35 year old single parent in Russia. The economics and political system was not a positive atmosphere to raise her girls.

Two years of applications to the U S were successful with an offer to be a baby sitter for a Russian family in Los Angeles . No English, no family, no money; it did not stop her. She had a dream. Like the little heroine, Annie, she could looked forward to "tomorrow".

Yelana is a very happy person. "With God’s help she is most fortunate to be a strong spirited women." No time for regrets or sadness. She is too busy with her aerobic instruction and her family. She has been blessed with two very busy daughters; Anastasia and Marina.

"Mom always has a shoulder for her girls to lean on along with lots of encouragement for them to follow their own paths".

I asked Yelena if her daughters understood what she has gone through? She shook her head and asked: "Do you?’.
Yelana is a victor. In Russian they have a saying "What does not kill you makes you stronger." She has a wonderful positive attitude that we all can try to emulate. She is an inspiration to all that have the pleasure to take part in her aerobic classes.

Len Lesser

Len Lesser posts a report every week

You can email Len at lenlesser@hotmail.com