Tue, Dec 04, 2018 - Page 13 News List

Breaking down barriers to life, language and mobility

Russian exchange student Roman Pazensky, who lost his arms and legs in an accident 10 years ago, is pursuing his dream of becoming a Chinese translator

By John Evans  /  Contributing reporter

Roman Pazensky stands in front of an installation on a visit last month to the National Taiwan Museum of Fine Arts in Taichung.

Photo courtesy of Julia Startchenko

Roman Pazensky turns heads when he enters a room. First, because people see a man using a wheelchair. Then, because they see he is without arms and legs.

“I’m a normal man,” Pazensky says, “but they don’t see that right away.”

The looks that children give him are even more intrusive. When the Taipei Times spoke to Pazensky, 36, in Taichung last month, he was interacting with a group of young swimmers.

Baring their curiosity, the kids peppered Pazensky with questions: “Can you jump? Can you walk? Can you dance? Can you swim?”

Flashing his easygoing smile, Pazensky turned their probing questions into a teachable moment.

“I showed them I could swim. I jumped right in the pool,” he says.

Pazensky, an exchange student at Tamkang University in New Taipei City, wants to spread the message of staying positive and believing in yourself.

But the Russian native wasn’t always so upbeat and confident.

CLIMBING AGAINST THE ODDS

In 2008, Pazensky was involved in a mountaineering accident that left him fighting for his life in the bitter cold. While he survived the ordeal, doctors were forced to amputate all four of his limbs.

For the next four years, Pazensky secluded himself in his parents’ farmhouse about 200km from the port city of Vladivostok in Russia’s Far East. As Pazensky’s muscles, which had been forged through running and biking, gradually atrophied, his thoughts darkened.

With limited accessibility for the disabled in rural Russia, it was impossible for him just to ride the bus or the train.

“I watched a lot of TV and read some books, but I didn’t believe in myself,” he says.

Feeling helpless, Pazensky even considered suicide.

“But I couldn’t even do that,” Pazensky said.

These days, Pazensky tries to focus on the future, putting pragmatism ahead of sentimentality.

“I don’t think about the past,” he says. “It isn’t useful.”

A significant step forward came four years after the accident, when Pazensky received his first set of prosthetic limbs.

The arms and legs were made of cheap plastic and two canes were still needed for stability. But the gift of mobility was life-changing nonetheless.

Naturally athletic, Pazensky quickly adjusted to the new limbs. Outings to swim in a nearby river or walk through the forest returned to him a sense of normalcy.

“I was happy for the first time,” Pazensky says.

With the added confidence came romance.

On a Russian dating Web site for people with disabilities, Pazensky met Dasha Kantemirova from Vladivostok. Despite their different upbringings — he in the country and she in the city — the two developed a long-distance relationship.

But Kantemirova’s parents were protective of their daughter, who was diagnosed with cerebral palsy as a child.

“Her parents didn’t believe I was capable of taking care of her,” Pazensky says. It took him three years to win their favor through his assiduous courtship and good grades.

Now that the relationship is stable, it has become a great source of strength for Pazensky. The gift of confidence goes both ways in their relationship.

After years of trying, Kantemirova finally convinced Pazensky to go to school and pursue his dream of studying Chinese. She taught him to believe in himself, Pazensky says, “and I showed her how smart she was and that she just needed an opportunity to show it.”

Now there is talk of marriage and kids, which would again require the support of Kantemirova’s parents.

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