Stepping up to take care of her family

by Denise Gawlik

Train, train, train and then train some more.

Indeed, for the larger part of the last six years, one could always find Olena Sadovska at a swimming pool. The Brecksville-Broadview Heights senior is, in fact, an elite swimmer who routinely finishes first in her marquee events, including the 100m breaststroke and 200m individual medley, as well as annually qualifying for and placing at states as part of the high school swim team.

Olena will attend The Ohio State University this fall and join the reigning Big 10 women’s swim team champions. But this article is not about Olena’s skills in the swimming pool. This article is about Olena’s character as a person. It’s about her heart and devotion to her family.

Olena was born in Lviv, Ukraine and most of her family currently lives there. Her parents, Natalia Koval and Tara Sadovskyy, moved Olena and her older brother Davyd to the United States in the early 2000s in hopes of providing them with better opportunities.

Olena arrived in Cleveland when she was just 9 months old. The small family moved in with relatives until they could afford to live on their own moving first to Parma and eventually here to Brecksville.

Not even a few months ago, Olena was a typical high school senior counting down the days to graduation. Then Russia invaded Ukraine, and that all changed. Olena’s family lived there. Her Grandma lived there. Not one to sit idly by, Olena decided to do something.

Inspired by a British swim team who swam the length of Ukraine to raise awareness and funds, Olena had the idea to climb on a stair climber for 24 hours. According to Olena, she knew she was physically fit enough to do it and needed to “do something crazy to get people’s attention.”

Olena further explained the steps she would take on the stair stepper symbolized the steps that Ukrainian refugees were taking to escape Ukraine and reach safety in bordering countries. Her own relatives had tried to escape to Poland but turned back upon hearing that there were not enough supplies or space for them.

Olena completed her 24-hour stair climbing challenge at gym in Parma called 360 24/7.  She climbed from 6 a.m. on March 26 to approximately 7 a.m. on March 27. She used a timer to record the time she spent taking three short breaks. Using the timer to record “rest time” ensured she climbed for a total of 24 hours.

During that 24 hours, Olena was cheered on by friends and family. One friend, Justin Prystasz, even joined her on another stair stepper for four hours of moral support.  To increase awareness and encourage donations, Olena live streamed her challenge on Tik-Tok and set up a GoFundMe account to accept donations. She further advertised the event on social media including Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

In just those 24 hours, Olena’s efforts raised over $15,000 for Ukraine. Specifically, she raised approximately $1,000 in person while doing the challenge and $14,000 through her GoFundMe site. The $1,000 was given to Cleveland Selfreliance CU, a federal credit union in Parma, which is collecting donations and sending them directly to Ukraine. The GoFundMe funds will be donated to the Ukrainian Relief Fund. 

The challenge has been viewed on Tik-Tok by over 16 million people. Since the challenge, Olena has attracted more than 100,000 Tik-Tok followers. Her current celebrity status has also brought with it some unwanted attention. Most notably, she has had several people offering to pay her up to $2,000 for the socks she wore while doing her challenge. She politely declined.

Currently, Olena and her family speak daily with their relatives in Ukraine. She noted, however, that it is getting more difficult to contact some of them due to increasingly poor connections. To date, most of her relatives can stay in their homes but are living in their basements for safety.  Her grandmother, however, has been forced to reside in an underground shelter.

Olena said her parents are working on obtaining green cards for four to five family members, including her grandmother, so they can make the move to live with family in Brecksville.