What has been the best part of your summer?

Aug 15, 2016
Tagged with: What has been the best part of your summer?

It is not every day that you get an opportunity to go to Moscow, Russia. I am not sure if people choose Moscow as a vacation spot. However, I, along with 8 other USA representatives, was selected to be part of this historical trip. I eagerly accepted for three reasons: one, I was able to travel to a country that I had never been before. I got to visit a friend from Moscow, who I met in the states about 3 years ago. Last, I was given an opportunity to teach and play wheelchair rugby. After 20 years of playing wheelchair rugby you would think that I would be burned out. Not yet!

The 10 day journey would be interesting from the standpoint that I had concerns on the accessibility of Moscow. Would I be able to properly communicate with the athletes? Fortunately, the Russian Quad Rugby Exchange Program had done this before with a USA goalball delegation. Plus it had outstanding leadership in with Daria Khrapova, who we called Dasha and Ivan Scott. Ivan was our hero because he is from Moscow and speaks fluent Russian. Plus, he has lived the last 7 years in Connecticut and speaks fluent English with a subtle Russian accent. What made this trip a success was Dash and Ivan. Not only were they very professional, but they were extremely nice and very friendly. I had no problem entrusting my life in their hands and would easily do it again.  Now, accessibility is a different story and I will talk about down the road.

In regards to the trip, I have to admit being a little bit nervous of going into Moscow. Many Americans, including myself, can be influenced on what we see on TV and read in the news. It is very easy to think that Moscow would be cold and snowing, which it was not. The weather in Moscow was sunny and warm all week. It was also easy to think that all Russians hate Americans due to the cold war and different political views. Dasha and Ivan right away made me feel at ease. They very much rolled out the red carpet in hospitality. Knowing them was one of the bonuses of this trip.

My first impressions of Moscow, is that it is a very BIG city.  It is very big in space and distance. I think you could put New York inside of it. It is probably more comparable to LA with its size.  Like all big cities, Moscow has same problem, traffic. At times, it felt like we were on the bus for hours and hours and we have only travel 3 miles with 10 more to go. However, I very much loved the scenery! It is a very beautiful city during the spring. What stood out to me were the large lakes, big buildings and a traffic. I also very much enjoyed the view of their Cathedrals. They were big, historical and the next one seemed to be bigger than the previous. It was a wonderful experience to be able to go into Christ the Savior Cathedral.

I had no issue with the Moscow sites, scenery and nightlife. The hotel that we stayed at was an American hotel called the Embassy Suites. It even had a ramp to get into the hotel. Unfortunately, our hotel was probably the most accessible place other than the gymnasium.  As we traveled through the city, it seems as if every building had two steps to enter the building.  Now, some places did have ramps but they were in front of the steps. Some businesses had ramps that had two steps at the end of the ramp. Can you imagine that?  Also, some ramps were so steep that if I tried to push up then I would fall backwards.  I would say accessibility for a wheelchair user would rate on a scale of 1-10 would be about a negative 1.

Now, I do have friends with disabilities in Moscow and many of them feel that with their countries wealth and resources that making Moscow accessible is a reality. However, as a Moscow citizen told me that Moscow is like 1973 in the US in regards to accessibility.

Fortunately, most of the trip was accessible for me since I am very functional wheelchair user. I got to see the Cremline, attended a Russia ballet and met Hockey legend Slava Fetisov, who is the Michael Jordan of Hockey in Russia. He was also at the Olympics in Lake Placid, NY on the Soviet team that lost to the US in hockey in 1980. I actually know someone who can give testimony to the Miracle on Ice. Slava Fetisov is a true leader and an outstanding sport ambassador for Moscow. He and many others very much care about adaptive sport.

Now the sole reason for the trip was to be able to play and teach wheelchair rugby to Russian athletes. This country has many talented athletes and coaches who want grow the sport. They also have athletes that want to become better players and represent their country in competitive sport. It was a very exciting opportunity to meet players from another country that want to succeed at rugby. It was my honor to be a part of it and to have made new friends.

What made this a historic trip for us was that we played the first USA vs. Russia match in wheelchair rugby and we won both matches. No bad for an old timer like me to have this experience. Thank you to all who made it possible!

Author: Bob Lujano