Life in the United States is so often taken for granted by our youth…indeed by all of us, as those who have been in the mission field in many third world countries will attest. We have come to expect safe passage traveling to the grocery store, being able to deposit money that you have been paid into the bank to buy necessities for your family, and power that is on 99.9% of the time. But imagine that none of those things were assured. Imagine having dollar bills stacked in your basement because vendors won’t take them, and with no banks to draw checks. Imagine having only sporadic access to running water, and waiting weeks if not months for shipments of bottled water to arrive in stores. Or dealing with war zone like conditions on a daily basis, where the sound you wake up to is not birds chirping in nearby trees, but the sound of distant (or not-so-distant) gun and mortar fire. This is the world, the horror of conflict-ridden Luhansk region of the Ukraine, from which WCA senior Svetlana Goncharova came, or perhaps more appropriately, was rescued from.
Dr. Ben Pettus and his wife Ashley traveled to Ukraine in hopes of adopting their now daughter and fellow WCA senior Rebekah from the worn-torn region. “My wife and I met her (Svetlana) after several of the children were evacuated at the very beginning of the war. We were in Ukraine to adopt Rebekah, in a similar situation. We also tried to adopt Svetlana but were denied on a technicality–she was too old by four days relative to our paperwork,” explained Pettus. “We brought Rebekah home and set to work to secure a student visa for Lana. Two years later, against all odds, she secured a three-year student visa. Her hope is to learn athletic and coaching skills that she can someday take back to her home country in order to inspire and help the next generation.”
Athletics wasn’t a major focus in Svetlana’s life in the Ukraine, as the focus is almost exclusively placed on survival there. Once in the United States, though, and attending Williamsburg Christian Academy, several adults would impact her new life here, including then track coach and now Athletic Director Pam Gibbons. Gibbons was starting up a new running club and encouraged Goncharova to join. When she had arrived in the U.S., Goncharova was very interested in soccer, rollerblading, and juggling. “Running is not a big sport in Ukraine, most people only follow soccer,” Svetlana explained. Three years later, however, running has become her passion. “From the time I met her, I knew she could develop into a very strong runner. She would burst off the line, sprint anywhere from 1/2 lap to 2 laps around our field, and come back to the group with endless energy. I knew from that moment that she was a natural born runner,” noted Gibbons about working with Goncharova those first few years. “I had all the confidence that she was going to start out strong in the organized races, but she really surprised me when we went to longer events and suddenly she is placing top three amongst all women competitors.”
Svetlana has competed for the newly reintroduced WCA Cross Country team, and just recently burst open the Williamsburg road racing season. She finished 10th overall among all finishers in the 5k for the Arc road race, and in early October lodged a second-place overall finish at the Run for the Hills 10K, with an adjusted 10K time of 46:49. She would follow that with a blistering 22-minute race the next week in the local World Class Freedom Run 5k, good for first place overall and a new race record in the event, which started in 2014.
Svetlana is helped in this effort by the fact that the Pettus family are runners themselves: Dad Ben won the 50-59-year-old category in the Freedom Run race, and son Nate (9) won the 10&under division. But what she values most of in her life that has enabled this success is stability and love. “She does not have the security of adoption papers or a long-term visa, but she has the gift of a committed American family that is trying to help her achieve her dreams,” explained Dr. Pettus. The WCA community will certainly be cheering for Svetlana and watching her closely as she continues to pursue those dreams…if she doesn’t speed by too fast to catch a glimpse.