Ukraine’s Oliya Melnichuk: Interview by Lee Penman
Although she may be a relative newcomer to the competitive arena, Oliya Melnichuk is no stranger to challenge. Her story is one of triumph over adversity, realizing her dreams despite what some would consider to be overwhelming odds. Entering the USA as an immigrant with little grasp of the English language, Oliya had nothing but her strength of will and sheer determination to carry her through those tough early years in a strange country. Currently making a major impact in the bikini class I thought it was time to shine the spotlight on this rising star and hear a little more about her inspirational success story…
So Oliya, although you live in Florida now, you were born in the Ukraine. What are your memories of growing up there?
“They are all happy memories! Even though my parents got divorced when I turned 3 years old, they stayed really close friends so my sister and I never really experienced the typical effects of a divorce. Most of my memories consist of spending time outside, doing any type of outdoor activities. We were very active and never stayed in… plus back in the day, especially in that part of the world, video games and TV weren’t as popular as they are here, in fact, I don’t think that all of our neighbors even had TV’s!. I’m so happy that we weren’t raised sitting in front of a TV with a Play Station in our hands… what a closed in and unhealthy way to grow up.”
Leaving your sister and father behind to move to the USA must have been tough; do you hope to bring them over here one day?
“Yes it is very tough and I miss them terribly. My family have always been very close so being apart from them for so long is heartbreaking. I recently saw a picture of my Dad and it took me a couple of minutes to recognize him. I can’t describe the feeling of confusion in my head, because there aren’t enough words that would be able to express the pain and sorrow. I haven’t seen my sister or my Dad since I was 10 years old…I am now 27. Bringing them here is NOT an option, my mom has gone back to visit, although I never have. It’s insanely expensive so for right now that is not possible but give me 2, 3 years, when I’m rich and famous…then I will go!”
Did you experience any language difficulties when you came over here and if so how is your English now?
“My God! I didn’t speak a word of English when we moved here. School was HELL the first year, I pretty much just smiled and nodded to EVERYTHING! It got better with time; I was watching more and more TV, which is what saved me. These days I like to believe my English is excellent – for an immigrant anyway!”
You say you ‘discovered’ New York at 16….how did that discovery come about and what attracted you most about the city?
“ I was asked to go to a rave party somewhere in the city and that is how my discovery came about! I grew up in a small town in the Ukraine, so you can only imagine my amazement seeing all those lights and skyscrapers. I think it’s every teenager’s dream, to live free in a big city filled with opportunities and to become whatever it is you’ve always dreamt of being.”
They say if you can make it in New York you can make it anywhere. What were those early days over here like for you?
“To make a long story short I am glad I ended up moving away at such an early age and experiencing all the hardships of living alone in a big city. Good experiences give you hope, and bad experiences teach you a lesson, make you wiser (unless you’re a slow learner). I’ve had my share of disappointments with former friends, ex boyfriends, and just people around me who have done wrong by me, but I would never change a thing about growing up in NYC. I think if you are street smart and have common sense you can make it anywhere. The city can’t make you nor can it break you, unless you are easily influenced and do not stand your ground. I have built a very strong character, so attempting to break me would be amusing to watch.”
Turning to your physical pursuits, you have said that you were always thin and found it difficult gaining weight. Was that what inspired you to get into the gym initially?
“Absolutely! I was 110 pounds until I turned 23. I was always made fun of for being a ‘string bean’, especially in school, kids were VICIOUS! Being from a different country didn’t help the situation at all. I struggled through my teen years and early 20’s trying to gain a lousy pound or two if I was lucky! Once I started my consistent training in the gym, eating the right way and seeing the results, I was sold!”
So how did you evolve from gym member to personal trainer and eventually competitor?
“I seem to be very good with bossing people around (lol!), so with that being said, having so much passion for the fitness industry, an opportunity to become a personal trainer seemed like a great and wise idea. I always had stage fright so going up there in front of hundreds of people was definitely a fear of mine. It took a while, for those around me to convince me to do a show. I was originally training for figure, but one of my friends recommended bikini instead, since it was much easier for me to lean out than to gain muscle. I finally registered for a show (Lakeland Classic 2009) and ended up winning the overall!”
You have now done four shows….what have you learned along the way?
“I have learned to listen to my body when it comes to both nutrition and training. I no longer over train, I give my muscles time to heal and grow. I know how certain foods effect my body, what makes me bloated, what leans me out. Every show is another stepping stone towards my goal. Everyone wants to win, we all compete for the 1st place. Learning something new about yourself and being able to better yourself for the next show is an accomplishment in itself. I’m inspired by those who may lose and yet keep moving forward… those who refuse to give up and those who BELIEVE in themselves. I am one of those people and feel blessed to be able to say that.”
You claim to not be a big fan of constructive criticism…how do you overcome that when you are in a sport now where there is always going to be some degree of criticism?
“This sport is what taught me to be able to take constructive criticism and use it to my advantage. What you see in the mirror is very rarely what others see by looking at you. The judges are there to guide you in the right direction, and give you pointers on the areas you need to work on. Embrace the criticism, take it in and use it to your advantage! Being a stubborn Leo, I’ve always struggled with having to ask for advice, but with time and accumulation of wisdom I now finally realize what my boyfriend, Walter Santoni, has been preaching to me all along : ‘You won’t get an answer, if you don’t ask a question’ is so very true!”
I guess with your metabolism you don’t have to pay TOO much attention to diet….right or wrong?
“ WRONG! I actually have to pay more attention to it than most, since missing a meal makes me drop a pound to two pounds right away. I have to be very consistent with my meals and always have to have either a shake or some sort of food with me in case I’m stuck in the middle of nowhere with no grocery stores around. It’s a pain in the butt! It’s like a job you don’t get paid for, but nothing beats the beautiful feeling of accomplishment when you’re in the first call out!”
What sort of training schedule do you follow and due to your metabolism do you restrict cardio at all?
“After getting all the possible feedback I could get from the judges from my last show, I have been concentrating A LOT on my ham/glute area during my training, leaving my upper body alone for a while. I am trying to bring out my legs more and build some muscle in that area, as well as tighten my backside. I have done more lunges in the past month than I have in my entire life! As far as Cardio goes, I never used to do cardio before, until now. I am eating enough where I don’t have to worry about becoming a walking stick again, so I have been spending a whole lot of time on the Stairmaster!”
What is the hardest thing for you about competing?
“You have to make sure you eat the right foods at the right time, train the areas that need work the most. You are constantly in a battle with yourself, because you have to push your body nonstop. You can only master this sport if your mind overcomes the urges of the body. Even if you do not place, as long as you improve from your last show, you are a winner. At the end of the day, the only person you are competing against is yourself and THAT is the hardest part of competing.”
What are your long term goals in and out of the sport?
“ I’ve come a long way since my first show. At this point I am working towards my Pro Card. With that, comes the opportunity to start my own team, and hopefully at some point my own competition Bikini line. But I am climbing the ladder of success one step at a time!
“As far as my career goes, I am currently in school to become a Veterinary Tech. I’ve been obsessed with animals since I was a little kid. I’ve been a member of ASPCA for years now, and have been volunteering for Humane Society as well. Some people spend their free time shopping at the mall, I spend it cleaning doggy poo, lol. I wouldn’t change a thing, it’s the most rewarding feeling to be able to take care of pets whose unconditional love should be an example to all of human kind.”
When can we see you on stage again?
“The Nationals on October 15 and 16! I have busted my ass training according to the advice given by the judges, so I feel very confident and excited about this upcoming show. I have put my all into it, dieting and training, so whatever happens I have no regrets because I’ve done my best this time around!”
How can people contact you?
“ I will be opening up my own website soon, as well as a Facebook fan page ( I don’t consider myself important enough to have one yet). But for now the easiest way is to email me : Oliya.email@example.com or tweet me @OliyaMelnichuk!”
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