Russian supermodel and philanthropist Natalia Vodianova is
featured in #NEVERSTOP, an inspirational film and campaign designed to raise
awareness of the Paralympic cause and people with disabilities. In the 90-second film, which launched just before the Sochi Paralympic Games,
the 32-year-old asks herself an important question: "What if it became
difficult to move forward?” She is shown with a bionic leg, which serves as a shocking reminder that any of us
could be confronted with a debilitating injury.
We caught up with Vodianova to learn more about the campaign:
How did the idea for #NEVERSTOP come together? Tell us a little about its implementation.
As an ambassador for the Sochi 2014 Paralympic Games, I have been involved with various projects to leverage my position as a visible person and attract as much as possible attention to the Paralympic Games. I understood from the beginning that the Games needed that push. In Russia, people with special needs are not as integrated into society as in other countries. It’s something I know from experience. When I was six years old, my sister was born with cerebral palsy and a deep case of autism. So growing up, I was exposed to the stigma people with disabilities face. The more positive attention we create for people with special needs, the better. Paralympic athletes are a perfect example of human strength and the incredible ability of the human spirit to strive on and to be much more powerful that their physical ability sometimes allows them.
I knew that a viral film people could share would be a very good way to bring attention, so this idea was always in my mind. When I went to JWT in Moscow and asked them to create a film, I described how I wanted to change the public’s perception of people with special needs. I see them as role models who can inspire us to overcome the challenges we face in life, and to see challenge as an opportunity. #NEVERSTOP epitomizes all the other ways I’ve tried to bring attention to our Paralympic athletes and the Paralympic Games.
I shared script ideas with the organizing committee of the Games, and with Dmitry Chernyshenko. This particular script had the most viral potential because it shows how it can happen to all of us. I shared with the creative team and director Bruno Aveillan how inspirational these people are to me. I also shared my concern that many people see disability as a weakness and something worth only pity. I think the most import message – if it happened to any of us, how would we like to be perceived? How would we want to be seen? Would we like everyone to think that with some support, strong will and perseverance we can be strong enough to do and achieve great things, maybe even more than we did before? Many Paralympic athletes I met talked about their disadvantage giving them a great focus to succeed, which was something of a challenge when they had their fully able bodies.
This is what we wanted to communicate with the project. It was very important to know what would come after the Paralympic Games; what we can leave behind in Russia. It has been incredible, and made me very happy to see the Games attract so much attention from the media, from fans, and from so many people who saw my message. We saw how people absolutely understood, and were inspired by, this film.
Tell me about the results of the #NEVERSTOP campaign.
We created a website, nvrstop.org, to collect words of support for Paralympic athletes and the project. Many people used the #NEVERSTOP hashtag during and after the Games. They are talking about the Games, the film, and important daily achievements. Now the Games are behind us, but people still using it as inspiration. This means that the legacy of the Games is continuing. The goal is to change attitudes. If a few people out there have looked at disability from a new angle, then our work and efforts were worthwhile.
Did you attend the Paralympic Games in Sochi?
I’m almost eight months pregnant, so I unfortunately could not be there. But I certainly celebrated the extraordinary atmosphere in Sochi and was very proud of the way the Games were organized -- from the beautiful opening and closing ceremonies, to the incredible success and achievements of the Russian teams, including many athletes I have met personally. For example, Inga Medvedeva, the star of these Games, and Mikhalina Lysova, who won six medals, including three gold. Inga has an especially beautiful story. I was moved when I met her back in 2012 in Moscow while producing a story for Glamour magazine on our beautiful Paralympic athletes. She is 39 and has a little daughter, Lena. She is an incredibly strong, beautiful athlete and woman who skies on one leg. I love to ski and cannot imagine how she competes with other athletes with two legs! I know how important it was for her and how much work she has put into achieving that, and I know it was a dream for her. More importantly, she wants her daughter to feel proud. I understand that as a mother.
Mikhailina, who has a visual impairment, won gold in biathlon and skiing. She is a beautiful girl, especially when she smiles. I was extremely happy for her success and felt I could share it with her as she also was one of the athletes we included in our Glamour story.
Have societal attitudes toward Paralympic Games changed?
These Paralympic Games were the best ever, according to Sir Philip Craven himself, head of the IPC. The number of tickets sold in Sochi was a record. I also know that we had a record of streaming hours of TV broadcast for the Paralympic Games on RBK. In general, when you see Paralympic athletes in action, it’s hard to stop watching. You are so proud of, and inspired by, them. So the most important thing to do is to turn that TV on! Then you will talk about it with friends, share on social media and help promote a different attitude towards people with disabilities sometimes without even realizing you are doing it.
What makes you happy?
Happiness is a sensation, and I never take it too seriously. However, I certainly feel it rising inside me quite often, because I do have a lot to feel happy about. What makes me feel happy the most is that I’ve been able to connect the dots between my past, which by many standards was not the easiest, and also my incredibly fast and early success, which felt at the time like a bucket of cold water thrown on me. My work with the Naked Heart Foundation was what acted as the glue, giving me a reason to live and continue fighting -- not just for myself, but for others, which is much more rewarding and fulfilling.