Ever since you told me what it felt like to stand on that podium with an Olympic gold medal around your neck while the Russian anthem was playing, my dream has been to follow your footsteps and experience that same moment one day.
Listening to your stories of triumph, pride, and dedication as a speed skater inspired me to be a competitor in an entirely new sport to our family.
You motivated me to move across the world to become the best I can be. Through the ups and the downs, and heaven knows there’s been both, you’ve been there.
Thank you, grandma, for helping me get to where I’m at now. I would have never made it without you. Even when I first got started, you were my number one fan.
I can still hear you vividly cheering for me by those empty Moscow tennis courts.
“You can do it, Alexey! Let’s go! You’re the best!”
Nobody cheered louder. And while, at the time, I was a little embarrassed, I look back now and feel so special that you came out and rooted for me.
Thanks to you, I got the training I needed to evolve into a great player.
Through your connections within the Olympic community, you managed to find me the best academies and coaches. Without your help, my dream may have fizzled out at a young age.
Those academies and coaches turned me into a highly-skilled player who could contend with players from all over the world.
Remember when I came back from the academy in Spain and shortly after earned my first ITF ranking? Or when I won the U16 Russian Championships? I can still see the smile on your face. Deep inside, I think you knew that these were our titles and accomplishments.
But especially after winning that national championship, it was time to take the next step. And that one took me to the other side of the world.
First, I joined an academy in California that specializes in preparing athletes for college, which I decided was my next step rather than going pro.
I also had a pretty good understanding of what I was looking for in a school. Academics was always a huge priority of mine, and that certainly didn’t change. But, after all, we all knew that the school also had to have a great athletic department. That dream of carrying an Olympic medal around my neck has only been strengthened throughout my teenage years.
Fortunately, a perfect 800 score in math as well as my international and national accomplishments, led me to the perfect place for this next stage of my life – Alabama.
You should see the facilities and resources here, grandma. It’s out of this world. Alabama checked all of the boxes for me.
Now, I’m about to head into my final season for the Crimson Tide.
My time here was filled with many ups and downs, but my biggest obstacle came right after the end of my junior year, grandma.
We lost you on May 12th of this year.
It was unexpected, out of nowhere. I was in complete shock when I found out you were hit by a car walking home. The news broke me down.
You were my rock! My inspiration for everything. My tennis career, my work ethic, and heck, even my journey to America. You had a hand in all of it.
The sting of this loss hit me hard. I still haven’t fully processed it.
One of our last interactions was right after our team had lost in the first round of the NCAAs against USF.
The dual match came down to my singles. I had struggled with confidence my whole junior year, battled some nagging injuries, and had a really tough time keeping up with school and managing the long-distance relationship with my girlfriend. It all seemed to have spiked during that time.
To this day, I think I should have won that match and gave our team the win. But, well, I didn’t.
In one of your last days on earth, you still comforted me, talked me through it, and put me back on track. You always knew how to find the right words.
Losing you unlocked a new level of inner strength. I look at my life from a fresh perspective now. And I definitely think it played out well so far.
Going into my senior year, I’ve trained harder than ever before. I also put more emphasis on self-care, sleep, stretching, and other elements I may have neglected in the past.
It’s crazy how the littlest things impact the big picture.
I went 23-3 in singles and doubles this fall, and couldn’t be more thrilled for the season opener in January.
In the end, Grandma, I just want to thank you for everything. My dream, our dream, is still a constant driving force.
One day I hope to experience the podium and Olympics like you did 60 years ago. As long as there is a chance, I will do my best to get there.
Thank you, grandma.
Я люблю тебя