Alyona Alekhina – ‘I’m grateful that my story can help somebody’

Words: Miljan Milekić

The first time I stumbled upon the name of Alyona Alekhina, she was this young and successful snowboarder with the best soundtracks in her videos. And then, it all changed in a matter of seconds. She suffered an injury that ended her snowboarding career, leaving her paralyzed from the waist down. However, that’s not where her story ends. In the following years, she took her life back into her hands, building a career as a musician, a model, and a motivational speaker. However, there is no way I can tell her story better than she can, and I was lucky enough to have a chat with her and let her do it. Check it below, it’s worth every second.

Hi, how are you? What you’re up to these days? I know you’ve had a really busy month behind you.
Alyona: We’ve started this year by going on this mini-tour. We started in Switzerland, as we got invited to play a show at LAAX Open, one of the biggest snowboard events. It was surreal to me because I’d attended four or five of them back in the day as a professional snowboarder, and LAAX was always my favorite snow resort. Last year we played shows in the mountains and by the Ocean, at two of the biggest snowboard and surf Russian camps, and it was the first time for me since my injury coming back to the Russian surf/snowboard/skateboard community, but it was mostly Russian people. So this show in Switzerland was the first time for me when I got back to the international snowboard industry. I hadn’t seen some of those beautiful faces I saw from the stage, for seven years! I couldn’t even remember some of the names I used to know so well. It was crazy, and the emotions were surreal. It all felt like trying to remember a really good dream you had had the night before.

After that, we played two shows in Sochi, so having three back to back shows in the mountains was amazing. The whole tour was some of the best times of my life. Since the injury for sure, and maybe in general actually! I wouldn’t have changed a thing, and I enjoyed every single second of it. Then, I got back, I had a couple of shootings in Moscow, and now I’m in California. I had three weeks with no shows or shootings for the first time since last May, so I finally had enough free time to go back to California for a while. Not to sound that I’m complaining that I’m so busy. I’m really happy and grateful for all of these opportunities that keep me so busy. But now it has turned into waaay longer than three weeks. And it’s COVID-19, so all of our shows and other gigs for the next month got canceled, so I’m still in California over a month later. (laughs)

When I first got to know you, it was back in 2012 or 2013, and I got to know you as a snowboarder and musician. After the accident, your focus has shifted to music but also modeling and motivational speaking. How important is it for you to always do different things and explore different interests?
Alyona: You know, for the 25 years, before my accident, I always thought that life was just happy and beautiful. Then, for a couple of years, it seemed dark and very unfair, and now I’m back to happy. But one thing that has never changed throughout the years is that life has been very interesting. And I think this is what I love about life the most. It just has so much to offer! When I was a professional snowboarder, I combined it with getting a Master’s Degree at one of the best Universities out there and was involved in a bunch of very time-consuming charity projects, because I wanted to do all of it. I wasn’t ready to choose just one thing. And although I always doubted this idea back then, because maybe I could have achieved more as a snowboarder if I hadn’t had to share the time equally with my studies, I equally loved both things.

And this is actually one of the things that eventually saved me. Being able to start working as soon as three or four months after my injury – for a disabled paraplegic person it was an amazing opportunity! Because I was able to start working without stopping my rehabilitation – thanks to my Master’s Degree in languages, I was able to start doing translations for ROXY and Quiksilver websites, and teach first three, and then four languages – all while doing my physical therapy in my equipment. I actually benefited a lot in my rehabilitation thanks to working, because the more I worked, the more time I could spend training. The thing is that most of my rehabilitation was and still is really monotonous, and standing in my training machines was really hard, both physically and mentally. It caused me a lot of pain in my whole body, so I couldn’t spend more than two hours standing. But then I started to work, and as soon as I started to teach languages via Skype I was so involved in the process that I wasn’t noticing the pain and could already spend three or four hours training, depending on how many lessons I had in a row.

Plus, it was crucial for me to start working this soon after the accident. It was really important to find out that I still could do something really well and professionally, and I still could be at least financially independent. It also felt more satisfying mentally, because it had been too devastating to invest so much time into something that didn’t give any obvious results. I wasn’t going to quit rehabilitation, moreover, with my work, I was motivated to exercise even more, because, as funny as it sounds, each of those hours in the training equipment now brought me money too at the same time. So now I guess I’m glad I could never choose and focus only on one thing, although back then it was incredibly hard to combine professional snowboarding and studies. And I guess not much has really changed since then (laughs) because I still love and enjoy too many things in life at once. I think I may be a workaholic, and my way of resting is just switching to a different activity that I enjoy.

I’ve been following your snowboarding career, and I’ve been following your recovery process after the accident. Still, I can’t even imagine what you were going through at the time. What do you see as the main force that pushed you forward, to keep on fighting, and not let it get the best of you?
Alyona: Well, to start with, I don’t know what other options I had. I had been completely independent since around seventeen, financially and pretty much in every other way, so the first goal for me after the injury was not to become a burden to anyone. And I had to learn a lot of things from scratch, I had to learn how to dress on my own, for instance, or even things like learning how to have enough balance to be able to sit up. So I started to fight as hard as I could since day one doing as much therapy as I could. Then I started working just three months after my injury.

First I started teaching English, Spanish and Russian for foreigners via Skype. And then in the first couple of years after the injury, I also improved my French and could start teaching it as well. I also started to learn German (I’ll never teach this one though), just because it was nice to see progress at least in something since I didn’t see a lot of progress in my intensive rehabilitation. So I guess learning something new was just a way for me to track time and enjoy this feeling of progress at least in something. So my first goal was to take this injury off of the shoulders of everyone else around me, and learn to be as independent as I could – things like learning how to drive a car with hand-controls, getting in and out of the car on my own, living alone in the USA, while all of my family and almost all of my friends lived all the way in Russia and a lot of other things that became my new life.

What kept saving me over and over again was trying to see this whole situation as a game. Like: “Okay, this is a new and very challenging level, but let’s see how I’ll be able to handle it.” Like “Let’s see what is still possible to do with your situation when you’ve lost almost everything you’d been working for your whole life.” Or “Let’s see if it’s possible to find happiness again even though on top of losing an ability to walk, you got broken-hearted by a person you loved and who had promised to be with you for the rest of your life, but instead betrayed you when you needed his support the most, and that multiplied your tragedy by a hundred because those two things were very connected.” “Let’s see if it’s possible to find a new career again, to work as a model or a performing artist on stage if you can’t even walk.” So trying to see it all as a game helped me a lot too, among a lot of other phycological tricks like this one. But I would need my two hours of motivational speaking to be able to tell you about all of those little things tricks that gave me strength kept me going. (laughs)

So to finally answer your question I’d say the main force was the fact that I really didn’t see any other option. But also, I’ve always really loved life. I don’t know many other people who love life as much as I do, so that also helped I’d say? Plus, I’ve always admired strong people who don’t take this life for granted and strive to be happy and make people around them happy too. So I think I’ve always tried to be one of these people. And after all, all of these three reasons above are connected. An unhappy person is often a burden to people around them. And a happy person rarely wants to hurt or harm other people. Plus when people are happy they often want to share this happiness by helping other people around them. So I see it as a responsibility in a way to try to make yourself as happy as possible, because then you can do more good things for others around you.

I was, and still am inspired by the way you are coping with it, and I know many other people are. How important was it for you to start doing motivational speaking and helping people overcome their struggles, and how challenging it is, knowing that you’re doing it from your experience?
Alyona: I think it was really important and it’s an amazing thing to me. Because while the most important part about it is that my story inspires other people, I always talk about how inspired I feel as well every time after I get off the stage. And I think it’s because normally I try not to spend too much time thinking about what a journey it’s been because I try to focus on looking forward and being present instead of looking back. But when I do these motivational speaking events, I have to tell the whole story with a lot of details. And while I’m telling all of this, I’m listening to myself going like “Whoa! I’ve been through hell. And man, some of that stuff is heavy. It’s crazy how have I even survived this.” But at the same time, it makes me see how far I’ve come and it makes me realize that the impossible is possible then!​

But of course, the feedback from people is still the most important thing to me, because, every day, I get a dozen messages saying that my story gives people inspiration, motivation or makes them realize something important about this life. And that’s exactly why I do motivational speaking and share my story. So it’s just such an amazing exchange of energy! I look at people as I’m speaking, and I see these emotions on their faces. I normally build the story the way that it’s first about how I was a very happy person for 25 years of my life, and then I was very, very unhappy, the unhappiest it gets. And then I talk about this long journey of finding my happiness again. And it’s so interesting to me to see how my story gets to be reflected in these beautiful faces of people sitting in front of me as I’m speaking. When I look at the photos after an event, I can tell the exact moment of the story I’m telling in that particular picture just by looking at the facial expressions of people. I feel so connected to the audience every time I get to perform as a motivational speaker because I feel like I’ve just told them everything about myself. Now they know who I am, and I have nothing to hide. So this exchange of energy is amazing.

For some people who come to those events, it’s the first time they see me. So it’s important to me to see what kind of impact my story makes on them, to get to hear their feedback afterward, and know that it has given them something good and worthy, another angle to look at their lives or some new energy to live and deal with this life. In exchange though, it gives ME energy and motivation to keep going, because I see how many people are influenced by it. And I think I get even more motivated knowing that it’s not only for myself. And on a tough day, I just know I can’t give up because I feel the responsibility I have for those people because they believe me and in me, and I don’t want to let them down, so I just keep doing my best.

As I said, I started following you as a snowboarder, but I first found out about you via one of my favorite bands. What drew my attention, apart from the snowboarding itself, was that you always had the best soundtracks. What came first for you? Punk rock, or snowboarding? How did you get involved in both those things?
Alyona: I would say punk rock was first. I was around 12 or 13 when my brother, who’s five years older than me gave me a bunch of his CDs. One of them was ‘Open Your Eyes’ by Goldfinger, and I think there were also NOFX and Rancid among them. So this is how punk rock music happened to me. Later this music introduced me to skateboarding and then skateboarding introduced me to snowboarding. So I think punk rock music caused my snowboarding in a way. And this music gave so much energy. It was almost like dancing for other people because snowboarding to me was also a way to express myself when I was listening to that music. So these sports, snowboarding, and skateboarding, were my version of “dancing” I guess. Although I normally don’t call them “sports.”

Yeah. I’ll rather call it culture because I always felt that things like snowboarding or skateboarding or BMX, or surf are more than a sport.
Alyona: Yes, I agree. It certainly became a sport to me at some point, when it came to the Olympics, competing in the World Cup, and stuff. It just happened so, but first of all, of course, it’s a culture to me too, not a sport. It still sounds crazy to me that surfing and skateboarding are also parts of the Olympics now because it’s the last thing I expected from them. (laughs) So with these cultures becoming disciplines in the Olympic Games, they transformed into sports for a lot of people, but there are still plenty of independent, underground riders out there who keep it real, keep it a culture, and still do their awesome independent thing.

Yeah, I was quite surprised a few months, or a year ago when I saw Bode Merill have The Offspring as the soundtrack. And I feel that it shouldn’t be a surprise.
Alyona: I know! When I started snowboarding I was sure that punk rock and snowboarding were inseparable and it turned out I was so wrong about that. (laughs) It turned out that I was always the only one in that industry who loved this kind of music, and the rest of snowboarding was mostly about hip hop, pop music, and other stuff. It felt pretty lonely out there music-wise. (laughs) So it was pretty rebellious of me to always use some punk rock as soundtracks to my snowboarding and skateboarding profiles. I didn’t care that everyone hated this music. I loved it.

I think surf and skateboarding videos use more punk rock than snowboarding though. My music and my snowboarding were always just inseparable to me because I really could not ride without having music playing in my ear. I could only ride with my music turned up in my left ear in one of my earphones, so I could hear what was going on around me and be safe on the mountain or hear what my coach was telling me. And my coach hated this habit of mine to be riding with my music on! I remember at some point he was so mad that he told me something like: “If I see you listening to music while training once again, I’m going to do everything to cut your salary.” (laughs) But I couldn’t ride without music. So I used to hide the cable of my headphones under my hoodie and my hair. Music was the whole point of riding to me!

Oh, and I remember my first season, when I was just starting snowboarding, it was 2007, maybe 2006, I was riding with one of those big CD players that had an mp3 CD in it. So every time I jumped, it skipped. (laughs). So I was really grateful for the new era of iPods to arrive. (laughs) Actually, I also remember skateboarding with a cassette player or whatever it was called. It was all about this music to me, and the moment the battery in my iPod died I could call it a day. So punk rock came first, then skateboarding, then snowboarding, leading it one to another. And then it kind of made a loop I feel like. Like playing a show with my band at LAAX Open, that huge snowboard event. We often play at different skateboarding, snowboarding, and surf events. We’ve been to Bali to play at that big surf festival. We’ve played at a lot of skate bowl contests, snowboard camps, and competitions, so it made a loop in a way, and it’s so interesting that music now still kinda keeps me close to snowboarding, surfing and skateboarding even though I haven’t been able to ride for so many years now.​

​I have noticed that, with your music, you tend to give back to the extreme sports community, as you said, by playing a lot of shows in skate shops, action sports events, and festivals. How important is it for you to bring your music to the community you’re a part of and how much their acceptance means to you?
Alyona: It’s amazing. It’s funny how I haven’t been on any board for almost seven years, but I still always find myself at all these skate parks, or near the ocean at surfing spots and contests, or in the mountains next to snowboarding. I guess this is what “one love” means and I guess it’s forever. And I guess it’s mutual too. Because none of it is forced, it just happens this way. I find it really magical, the fact that all of it is still a part of my life. Those places where I used to go as a snowboarder or as a surfer, they’re still a part of my life. Also the same people and the same faces.

But although I say I haven’t been on any board for seven years, it’s not really true. I’ve recently gone snowboarding, hanging like a backpack on the back of one of my friends – a really great Russian pro snowboarder. I’d had this idea in my head for a while, but I guess I was just too shy to ask anybody. So, when we went to Sochi to play our show this winter, I got a message from this Billabong snowboarder – “Hey, it may sound crazy, but what do you think about going snowboarding tomorrow with you on my back like a monkey?” I was like: “What time?!” I knew he’s a very good rider, so I didn’t doubt him. And we did it! It was amazing. It was 15 minutes of just cruising down the mountain, really fast at times, and it felt like I was snowboarding myself again having a snowboard right underneath my feet again. It was such a good day. And I’ve also got to surf in Bali and Kamchatka since my injury. Just sitting on the surfboard like a Buddha instead of standing.

So, music was always a big part of your life, but in recent years it feels like you’re investing much more energy in it. Are you happy with the feedback you’re getting so far?
Alyona: Oh yeah. Especially taking into account the fact that I’ve never expected any of it at all. Being more related to music has always been my dream though. Since like twelve. I played the piano and graduated with honors from music school and everything, but still, I was always told I was a talented athlete, that sport was my thing, and that I didn’t really have any musical talent. And even though I graduated with honors from music school I still felt like music was for someone better than me. (laughs) I started playing guitar when I was twelve. And I sang in the chorus at school and all.

Then, I think around fifteen, I wanted to have a band, and I started playing drums and taking drum lessons. But I also got a lot more into skateboarding around the same time. And a year later I tried snowboarding. And that was it, snowboarding became my whole life after that. But I always kept playing the guitar and the piano. I would take my guitar and even my keyboard (!!!!) on my training trips or competitions in the mountains, everywhere. I’m not kidding, I used to unscrew the bindings on my snowboard and it allowed me to fit my little M-audio keyboard in my snowboard bag and fly with it like this! So I could play the piano and guitar after I would come back to my hotel room from snowboarding in the mountains.​

​I think I was around 23 when I joined a band so I was finally pretty close to this dream of mine, but very soon after that, I started dating a singer of a really big band, so I stopped playing in my band because… I don’t know why. I was ashamed of it maybe? I felt like “What am I doing. I’m a professional snowboarder and I have a great an amazing career, it’s ridiculous that I want to play in a band. I’m never even home long enough to be in a band.” But I still always kept playing music just for myself, especially in between the snowboarding seasons or when I was injured and couldn’t ride.

But I never really allowed myself to spend too much time playing music and didn’t really sing as much as I wanted to. Although I secretly started taking some vocal lessons here and there, because I really loved it. It’s just always been a secret passion of mine I guess. (laughs). So for the most part of my life, I basically didn’t allow myself to do music, right? I always told myself that I was a talented athlete and snowboarding was my main thing and that it was better to focus on the “right” things. And then I also had my studies and I was involved in a lot of charity activities, so I just never had enough time for music.

Then my back injury happened in 2013, and my priorities switched to my rehabilitation and trying to recover as much as I could, and also to working as much as I could because I needed to provide for myself. So again, it felt like I couldn’t afford to spend time on music. Then, at some point, I read this Japanese rule of five minutes – whenever you want to learn something, but you don’t have enough time for it or you think you don’t, you can just do it for five minutes a day. Because you can always find five spare minutes a day, no matter how busy you are. I thought that was a great idea, so I officially gave myself permission to play music ten minutes a day, because it felt like it was not going to take too much time from my rehabilitation and work.

So my New Year’s resolution of 2016 was to allow myself to play music for 10 minutes a day. It wasn’t five, it was ten, and I think I didn’t miss a day for three months in a row! Sometimes I would do my vocal exercises, sometimes I would sing and play the guitar or play the piano. But then I had to have another back surgery, so I had to break my resolution because I couldn’t play music while I was in the hospital. But this whole resolution thing did a magic trick to me because those three months allowed me to finally let the music into my life. For the first time in my life, I allowed myself to be a musician and to create. Music became a friend, and I wasn’t afraid of it anymore. And I think that started the whole thing.

Then one day I showed a song that I had written to some friends of mine. They were musicians, and they were staying at my place in California at the time for a couple of weeks. They just asked me if I’d ever written any songs myself, so I showed that song to them. They loved it and told me I needed to record it. So we recorded it in my living room right away, but I didn’t publish it or anything for a long time. And it was the same friends who told me I needed to let other people hear it. So, one day I decided to post it on my Instagram and I started getting all these comments and messages like “What, I never knew you could sing, this song is so great!” Then more people started telling me they listened to the song all the time, sending me like screenshots of it and stuff. It was like “What?! Wow. Okay. Thanks!” And I think I’m still the same way. (laughs) Feel surprised every time I see people love what I do music-wise, see that people listen to my music, need it for some reason, and enjoy it. It’s still like “Really? Thank you!”​

We mainly know you for your acoustic stuff, but recently, you went full punk rock with the new song ‘Bambi (Drop Your Gun),’ with your band 321Run. Can we expect more of the same from you guys, and maybe more of this instead of the acoustic stuff? From what I’ve heard so far, it seems like you’re channeling your deeper feelings and emotions through your acoustic songs, while your rage and frustrations are receiving the “loudness treatment.”
Alyona: It’s a great question. I think a band that plays punk rock music was something I just owed to myself! This music has influenced my whole life. I’ve had a dream to play in a band and to play punk rock music since I was thirteen! Acoustic stuff started this whole performing music as an artist thing for me, but I felt like I still owed playing in a punk rock band to myself.

I like both of my bands though, so I still have two different projects. Sometimes I get gigs with one band, and sometimes with the other one, depending on what kind of event it is, for instance. I love keeping both of the projects at the same time because they are so different to me! I think every person has a lot of sides of their personality. You know, a demon and an angel. (laughs) No, actually it’s not exactly black and white though. But I feel like these two projects are two different sides of me – when one is more melodic and… tender maybe? And the other one is more… fierce? Still peaceful and mostly positive vibes though. Well and I’ve always been a tomboy.

321RUN is more about delivering energy, and the acoustic stuff is more about trying to work on every little sound, trying to sound as perfect as possible. And I don’t try to sound perfect in 321RUN. It’s this type of music where it’s almost – the worse the better (laughs). I don’t want it to be perfect. I love it being raw. And all of it has been very DIY. The acoustic shows though are when I can really try to work on the sound and my vocals. Where I really want it to sound as good as possible. So I love how different these two projects are. I think I even feel like two different people whenever I’m having a show with one or the other band.

So I would like to keep it this way for now. Because everything that’s been happening with my music… none of it is pre-planned, none of it is forced and all of it is like.. organic? Yes, it’s always been a dream, and I took my little steps. So I can’t say it happened completely on its own too. I worked hard, and I still keep working hard. But it’s been happening in a very natural way. All of the guys in both bands are not some professional musicians that I selected or something. They are just friends, people I knew. People I have the best times with and laugh 85% of the time together. It all was just like – “Hey let’s play music!” It’s been a very, very natural process, and I would love it to stay this way.

Are you still in touch with snowboarding at this point? Do you still keep track of what’s going on, and can you compare the level of the women snowboarding today with the time you used to compete? Alyona: I think I really kept track only for a year or two after my injury. I guess it was just a habit I had from before. I kept watching all the snowboard contests. I knew it wasn’t a good idea back in the day, but I couldn’t help it. It still felt like a big part of my life, and I couldn’t imagine missing out and not seeing what was going on. I also was in denial for a long time, maybe for the first half a year after the accident. I believed that all of what’s was going on with me was very temporary and that I would be back on the board. And then, two years in, I realized that maybe it wasn’t the best thing for me to keep track of all of it.

So, I went into a new phase when I was trying to forget all of it. And this is why I was saying earlier it felt like remembering a dream, when I was playing that show at LAAX Open, that big snowboard event at a Swiss ski resort. Because it had taken me so long to forget all of this back in the day. Back then I was just trying to help myself, to save myself, protect and isolate myself. I think I had to do it back then just so I could survive. Now I just like watching surfing contests, like big wave competitions are so unbelievable to me, and I just love surfing. And only because of our shows in the mountains, I had a chance to look at some snowboarding too. And I even got to be a TV-host for a big snowboard contest last year. The level is higher of course I think. But it’s been seven years too!​

A bit earlier, I wrote that you also focused a lot of your energy on modeling. How did you get into the fashion world, and do you think that experience also inspires and interferes with the other things you’re doing?
Alyona: I started modeling back in… I want to say 2009, for Roxy. I always modeled their swimwear. It was kind of funny to me because I’m a 5’2”, 162 cm. (laughs) Too short to be a professional model, but because of snowboarding, and Roxy being all about being natural, being yourself, and staying the way you are, being out there tan surfing and all that, I was perfect for them. That’s how it all started for me and continued for many years. After the injury, I didn’t see myself doing that again. But then slowly but surely, I made my way back into modeling again, I think with no intention to do so and not even thinking that it was possible. But I’d say it was important to me after all, to get back to it because it helped me in a way. During the first years after my injury, I was broken-hearted and felt very insecure. So, back then, modeling was just a great tool for finding a way to feel confident again.

But then, it became more than this. I started to get more and more paid gigs, which I, obviously, didn’t mind at all, and it all led to later working with the best brands out there. Which is a real honor, and one of those things I couldn’t imagine being possible in the first couple of years after my injury. So, it’s been very inspiring to me and helped me own what I have. It helped me in a lot of ways, and I’m really grateful for all of these opportunities, and for modeling still being a part of my life, and also for picking me up when I needed it the most.

Also, I’ve already talked about different sides of a personality, the characters. We all have a lot of personalities and characters in us, and being a model is one of the different characters in me I guess, one of the roles I get to play? Because let’s be honest, I’ve been a tomboy most of my life. Now I’m a grown-up, but most of the time, with band practices, touring, rehabilitation, I wear oversized clothes and my stretched T-shirts, and that’s who I’ve always been. But it’s nice to know that I can be different if I wanted to. And it’s fun to be different sometimes. It’s fun to try on different roles to play, and see how good you can do it, or see what else is out there that you enjoy.

You are one of the rare people who successfully combine two very different things – high fashion, with the underground, street style, making it look so easy, and so logical. Actually, just by saying this, I realized that you’re one of the pioneers – not a lot of people did it back then, and today, many people try to do it, and it’s like a new “cool” thing. How much of a challenge is it to be involved in both worlds, and make them collide?
Alyona: While you were speaking, I realized one more thing about “playing those different roles.” While I had a professional snowboarder career and combined it with studying at the university, I could never say snowboarding was more important to me. Both of these parts of my life, snowboarding and getting my Master’s degree, were equally important to me. I just really loved studying and learning, and I loved attending the University. And again I feel like it was about me having a couple of different characters in me, combining the uncombinable. (laughs)

I remember coming back home from the mountains and some competitions, the next morning I would dress up in a suit for the University. It’s one of the biggest Universities in Russia, so I would dress up to look proper and to show my respect to this place, but then after, I would change back into my Vans in my car and go skateboarding in a bowl after the classes. Or had like all my gear in the car with me so I could do snowboarding right after the studies. Or I’d come back after a really long snowboarding trip and dive into studies really hard, for a week on nothing other than studies, so I could pass my exams well.

So, I guess I’ve always liked to tap on different parts of my personality. I also have a joke about my style. I say that I only have only the two styles I wear – it’s either a very classy and minimalistic, like Victoria Beckham’s style, or my favorite “homeless person” style. You know what I mean? (laughs) And although I said Victoria Beckham style, you know, she doesn’t wear Vans. And I’d still wear Vans, so it’s still me. It’s fun to surprise, to know how to be different sometimes and it’s just fun to combine the uncombinable and mix the unmixable. (laughs) I guess the thing that has been really surprising to me though is to see those high fashion brands being so interested in me! I get invited to these luxurious events in downtown Moscow, and there are all these celebrities, and everything is very high fashion. And then there is me, still wearing my Vans and still staying me. And I’m like, “Why? Why do they want me? What do they see in me?”

Being involved in all these different things made it possible for you to appear in many different media outlets – from small underground blogs like this one, to big sports media and fashion powerhouses like Esquire. How important is it to you to use all these platforms to share your story and inspire all these different people, from different backgrounds?
Alyona: I think it’s important. The more messages I read every day, the more importance I see in sharing my story. Not to sound like I’m bragging, mostly it’s words of admiration, but the most important part to me in every message is the fact that people say that my story HELPED them. “Your story helped me realize this,” or “I was so depressed and ready to give up, but your story gave me the strength to keep going.” So I feel the responsibility. Charity and volunteer work has been always a big part of my life, and recently, I’m getting more and more back into it, which is really important to me. It’s always been extremely important to me to be able to share and to give. It’s crucial to me and it’s what I live for. My dream has always been to make a difference and this is the main reason why I’ve always been involved in charity, always wanted to be of use to good people and try to make this world a better place, so I’m very grateful for the opportunity to share my story if it can help somebody. And I guess it can.

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