A mum who suffered a stroke aged 15 which paralysed her from the waist down has become a successful model after learning to love her body again.
When Olga Gomboeva, 38, had a spinal cord stroke in 1998, she was tragically left unable to walk.
The superfit model was an avid runner who played handball at the time, with the condition believed to have been caused by an aneurysm rupturing.
Following the operation, Olga began using special training equipment made by her father – including wall bars and walkers – in the hopes of being able to walk unassisted again.
The personal assistant, who lives with husband Maxim, 39, and son Bogdan, 10, now uses a wheelchair to get around, but that hasn’t stopped her from achieving her dreams of becoming a successful model.
Despite her struggles, the mum has said she feels “beautiful” in front of the camera and has finally learned to love the way she looks.
Now she feels at home on photo shoots and in beauty contests, she wants to challenge stereotypes and show that wheelchair users can live a “normal life”.
Doctors are unsure what brought on the aneurysm but believe Olga, from Schelkovo, Russia, may have been born with it.
“I had a lot of pain in my back and I couldn’t sit down,” Olga said.
“I had an operation in 1998 for the elimination of the aneurysm that was on my spinal cord but sadly, it didn’t help and I still couldn’t walk.
“However, it did allow me to sit down again after roughly six months.”
The mum struggled both physically and emotionally during this time and felt isolated from the rest of the world.
She said: “I was very weak, terrified and sad and my friends, who were young, fun and in good health came to visit me but I was so unhappy.
“I spent three years of my life training to walk again but then I realised that my life was passing me by.
“I didn’t go anywhere, I didn’t spend any time with my friends, I was in so much pain and I eventually realised that my life had changed forever.
“It was very hard for me to try and find a new way of life and love my new body.”
Olga refused to let her freedom be curbed by her mobility issues, and began taking part in wheelchair dancing which led her to be nominated as head of the Wheelchair Dancing Federation in 2000.
Then, in 2019, she ventured into modelling after having been scouted by the organisers of a modelling event.
Posing for the camera makes the mum feel “beautiful and powerful” – and has helped her regain her confidence.
Olga said: “I’ve been an inclusive model since 2019, after the organisers of a modelling event saw photos of me and invited me to attend.
“I’ve also taken part in the International Moscow competition of young fashion designers and a number of other shows; including a beauty contest specifically for women who use wheelchairs – and I came in third place.
“When I’m in front of the camera, I feel so beautiful and powerful.
“It gives me self-confidence and it’s like an explosion of emotions, I get such a boost of energy after doing a modelling event or show.”
Olga also has a degree in in linguistics and that’s how she met her husband.
The couple married a few years later and Olga fell pregnant shortly after, with the pair welcoming Bogdan on 30 July, 2020.
Although she is accustomed to being in a wheelchair, Olga says it makes motherhood a little more challenging.
Her pregnancy was difficult and she had a number of health issues, including inflammation of her urinary tract, something that can often happen to pregnant women who are wheelchair-bound.
She said: “I took care of him and did all the same things that healthy mothers do.
“It was definitely harder for me than for other moms, but I did it.”
In sharing her story Olga hopes to encourage people not to judge those in wheelchairs by their disability.
Olga added: “There are a lot of stereotypes about people in wheelchairs like they can’t be beautiful, sexual and happy or that they can’t live a normal life, have a job, a husband and children but that is unfair.
“People should not judge others by the way they look.
“Before I started modelling, people would often compliment my looks but I was too nervous to start doing it because I didn’t think it was possible to be in a wheelchair and be a model.
“But people have been so kind to me and often tell me how attractive I am – my husband has also been a great support and is proud of me.”