Every now and then, I meet someone and immediately know they are going to have a positive impact on my life. That happened to me when I met Saule this summer. Saule is a young girl who lives in Kazakhstan. She was given up by her birth parents because she has disabilities, so she’s grown up in an orphanage. An amazing woman named Victoria moved from the U.S. to Kazakhstan and she advocates for kids with disabilities, including Saule. She brought Saule back to the U.S. to have her leg amputated below the knee, so Saule now wears a prosthesis. The prosthetist Saule sees in the U.S. is friends with Zach, so when Saule and Victoria were in Colorado visiting friends this summer, we were able to arrange a visit for the morning Zach and I were planning to leave for Coeur d’Alene to do our first Half Ironman.
I am extremely thankful that the timing worked out and we were able to meet because Saule is one of the most courageous people I have ever met. In Kazakhstan, kids with disabilities don’t have a right to education like they do in the U.S., so most kids with disabilities are not sent to school and are actually discouraged from attending. This was true for Saule until Victoria stepped in and advocated for her. However, this hasn’t been without challenges. One of the stories Victoria told me is that the people at Saule’s school had asked Victoria to send Saule to school in pants rather than a skirt because they preferred her prosthetic leg to be covered. This absolutely makes my blood boil!! Victoria told me other stories of discrimination, and Saule seemed to be quite aware of how others will stare at her leg and sometimes laugh at her, yet she did not seem one bit phased by it. That said, she’s already determined to change all of Kazakhstan so they are more accepting of people with disabilities and she wasn’t afraid to share that ambition with me.
We chatted for a while and Saule had me show her how I could run and bounce around on my running leg, and she would have put that leg on and run down the hall if it would have been possible. In addition to her desire to change the world, it also struck me how typical and at the same type atypical Saule was for a girl her age. She chatted and played with her friends who were also there, but she also wandered off and confidently introduced herself to multiple other patients who were also in the office. I know at least one of them immediately fell in love with her and probably wished she could have adopted Saule herself.
After a great visit, Saule and Victoria set off to go tour the Colorado sights and Zach and I took off for Coeur d’Alene. I chatted on and on about how amazing Saule was until he couldn’t possibly listen to me rattle on anymore. Meeting Saule was obviously impactful for me, but I didn’t really realize the full level of that impact until I was on the bike portion of the Half Ironman in Coeur d’Alene that weekend. Fifty-six miles on a bike gives a person a lot of time to think, and probably about ten miles into the ride I couldn’t stop thinking about Saule and how she’s not letting anyone get her down about life and how, despite the challenges she’s already faced, she is bound and determined to make the world a better place for those who come after her. I actually started choking up and there may have been a tear or two rolling down my cheek because I was so touched by my experience meeting Saule.
At that moment I KNEW I was going to finish all 70.3 miles of that Half Ironman because it was no longer just about me – because I got to meet Saule just a few days earlier, my first Half Ironman was now also about showing young girls with disabilities, including Saule, that we can do things we set our minds to despite what other people might say or believe. I carried my thoughts of Saule with me for the remaining 46 miles of the bike and on every single footstep of the 13.1 mile run. She was definitely one of the driving forces behind me continuing to put one foot in front of the other so I could eventually cross the finish line. In all honesty, I kind of felt like I had a duty to finish so I could show Saule that her positive attitude was not misplaced and, in some small way, provide encouragement for her to keep pursuing her dreams to change the world for the better.
Zach & Victoria originally arranged the meeting so Saule could meet me because Victoria thought it would be good for Saule. However, I think the meeting may have ended up being more beneficial for me because Saule provided the strength I needed when those 70.3 miles got painful, and I continue to think about Saule’s strength, ambition, and character when things get tough. I am so thankful to know Saule and I look forward to following all of her future endeavors.