By Annabelle Schmitt
Meet Katerina Slugina, a young ballerina, gymnast turned model, and barely an adult. After sustaining multiple injuries, Katerina’s dreams of performing in the Olympics were cut short. Even so, she’s taken everything head on. Katerina is mature, level-headed and self-aware at a very young age. Her life has been more hectic than most, but it’s obvious that she’s more than ready to take on anything that comes her way.
1. Tell me a bit about your life as an Olympic hopeful. Why did you want to be an Olympic gymnast?
I gave gymnastics 12 years of my life. At first, when I was a child, no one could imagine that I would become a professional sportsman; it was all for fun.
Suddenly, though, gymnastics became my entire life. Of course, each athlete has a dream about medals or participating in the Olympic Games; I had it too, but it remained a dream. In my case, though, the word "Olympics" or mention of it has a symbolic value: it is a struggle with yourself. "Conquer yourself and you will win thousands of battles."
I grew up in a family and country of hopeless realists, so a large part of my career mention of the Olympics was a distant dream and observations on the TV screen. When I moved from Kazakhstan to Bulgaria (because of the sport), I faced a lot of difficulties and trials and believe me, every one of them was my own little Olympics.
2. You sustained a number of injuries that led to your inability to remain an Olympic athlete. What was it like having something out of your control decide your future?
You know, until recently, I could not answer that question myself. I am a person who prefers everything around me to be under control and if something is suddenly knocked out, I fall into a panic. Here, when the problems started with my injuries, I felt as though the injuries were actually controlling me. I was desperate and fearful; it felt like walking a tightrope blindfolded.
I preferred to hide my injuries and the pain from all: from the coach, because I knew that it was necessary to work and that there were many competitions ahead in which I really wanted to show myself off; from my mother and brother, because they worry about me more than I do. That's why I switched to the strong painkiller pills. I lasted 10-11 months until my body got used to having double doses, and the painkillers just stopped helping. Then things got worse. I couldn’t cope with the pain any longer and didn't control it, and I had to talk about my health problems since I really needed help dealing with the consequences of the monotonous faces of doctors, diagnoses and eventually, the end of my sports career.
How did I cope? Honestly, I don't know. When I look back and remember all this, I can't even believe that it was me, that I passed through it all. My coach, Nikolay Boev, helped me a lot. He taught me to believe in myself; this was probably the most difficult lesson for me.
And my mother and brother, even though it is difficult to understand me because I'm really closed off , they were always trying to be there with me, even though my mom lives in Kazakhstan, thousands of kilometers away from me.
First, I had to go alone this way to open up to others …
3. What led you to decide to model?
The unknown, foggy future led me to the modeling business. After the end of my sports career, I had to find myself again in something else. Perhaps it was the hardest thing to do. With modeling, everything happened randomly and spontaneously. One friend told me that I look like a real model and that I should try it. I'm glad I decided to do it, because even as a child, I strangely did not dream to shine on the catwalk.
4. How did your friends and family react to this decision? What role did they play in helping you make it?
At first, my family said "Why not?", but as it continued with more serious work, there were some moments when they were strongly against it, thanks to the myths and stereotypes of the modeling business. Friends treated it much easier - some were really happy for me and supportive, some were just jealous.
5. What’s training as a model like compared to training as an athlete?
You know there is a lot in common actually. As an athlete and a model, I have to constantly train my willpower to keep myself in shape and keep a good appearance. It seemed to be absolutely different spheres, but many times I draw the same lessons from. As a sport, modeling taught me iron discipline and competent communication with people.
6. What’s it been like so far? What goals do you have for your modeling career, and what have you accomplished so far?
I still have not put modeling in my priorities, because here in Bulgaria, it is actually difficult to do because of the weak Market. I'm looking forward to my first trip abroad, but I can still tell nothing about the certain goals. You know, in modeling there are sometimes also "little Olympics." It is also difficult to combine it with education, because education for me is one of the most important aspects of life. But I also wouldn't like to miss my chance.
7. What work have you done that really stands out to you?
The greatest work that I have done I think is work on myself - humble and introverted people, among which I am, have huge difficulties in modeling. I'm not even sure that there are some in this business except me. Previously, I had great difficulty communicating with people, as well as social phobia. Modeling helps me cope with it, because you just can’t work in this industry without communication.
8. Do you ever question if you made the right decision? You’re so young, it’s crazy to imagine that everything is figured out already.
Of course I always wonder if I made the right decision. Honestly, for me it is the most terrible question, because of the heavy feeling of responsibility. From when I moved to Bulgaria at 15 years old, I have often had to make important life decisions for myself and to take responsibility for them.
And while I have no regrets, I think that this is the most important. The only time I question these decisions is when I come across a video and photos from my gymnastics performances - I regret that I will never be able to repeat it, but I think that's probably a kind of nostalgia. As for modeling, I still have to go forward, I have nothing to regret.
9. What are your hopes and dreams beyond modeling?
Hopes and dreams? None yet. You know, I prefer to live according to the plan, rather than a dream. From an early age, I was used to setting realistic goals and achieving them, not dreaming. After all, dreams are often the causes of illusions, although they sometimes can get you a good kickstart. I always try not to hope on anything and anyone but only on myself, because if there are less hopes then there will be less disappointment.
Of course I have some dreams, but they are not related to modeling. I really want to publish a collection of my poems and write a book on motivational psychology. Concerning modeling, I do not have specific dreams like a kind of open Chanel fashion show or something like that, I just want to work and develop myself.
It's still difficult to perceive myself as a model, because I grew up in a very traditional family, and was raised on sustainable, common moral values. I think to some extent it has affected my stiffness and restraint. Now I think I'm more an artist than a model.
10. I noticed you’re into writing, specifically poetry. Tell me a bit about what you like to do when you’re not in front of the camera.
I have been writing for 2-3 years. It has never been my hobby, rather a way to escape from harsh reality and endless frustration. I loved firstly to invent an utopia, and then to compare it with essentially dystopia of the modern world we live in.
Also, the things I write are usually something that I could never say out of loud. At first I was writing in my native Russian language, I have a collection of about 100 poems. Now I'm trying English. My poems are quiet protests and exclamations. Nowadays, I can feel like I'm against the whole world.
11. You go by “unsocial radioactive kid” on social media. Can you explain that a bit?
It became kind of my stage name or pseudonym. I am very glad of it, because it completely describes me and also leaves some kind of mystery. It was coined in comic form. When I met my close friend, he immediately came up with this name for me because he was surprised by my secrecy and reticence. So this name became a part of me.
Unsocial because you literally can describe me only by this word; in principle, this is me.
Radioactive because I come from a small industrial town in the east of Kazakhstan, the underdog of a variety of plants and, consequently, problems with ecology.
Kid because I'm still a small figure floating down the river of a huge crowd. "Kid" rather in the sense of social realism, not literal meaning.
12. Are there any projects and passions of yours you’d like to pursue?
Of course! I love to combine outfits and create ideas for photoshoots (You can check them out in my Instagram profile). Also, soon I will start steadily blogging in Media. Of course, I continue writing and publishing my works. I also like drawing and doodling, I write poems and then create sketches and drawings for them. I may soon create a video of choreography composed by me.
13. What rules do you live by?
The first and one of the most important – Do not to try to control things that do not depend on us (a lesson from the book "Who will cry when you die" by R. Sharma), as it scatters and diverts us from the things we really need to focus on.
The second one - Always continue to believe in yourself and your abilities. But at the same time, it is very important to be able to clearly and adequately assess yourself.
Third - Never stop self-development (It isn't a secret that this is very important.)
But probably the main rules for me are "Win yourself and you will win thousands of battles," and "What does not kill us makes us stronger."
14. What do you hope people will take away from your story?
I sincerely hope that this article will help readers cope with similar difficulties to overcome themselves and achieve what they desire. Also, I really hope that this will motivate people with similar life situations to step up and find themselves.
I have a terrible social phobia, I'm an introvert, so I find it hard to understand and accept other people as they find it difficult to understand me as well, but I deal with phobias and fears. I overcame my fear. And I am the same person as you; I did it, and therefore you also can do it.
I really want to motivate people to never give up and remember that it is very important to differentiate these things that depend on us only from the things over which we have no control or power.
Annabelle Schmitt is a fashion journalist based in the United States. Along with Deux, she writes for Tab and also photographs fashion when time permits.