It never ceases to amaze me how often unexpected and fascinating coincidences happen. At one of the cultural events, an acquaintance of mine drew my attention to a good-looking woman. A brief introduction to Elena Malkova made me curious to find out more about her and so we agreed to meet for an interview. When I started researching about her in preparation for our meeting, I realised that I had been corresponding with Elena back in 2017 about her volunteering role at the World Masters Games in Auckland. So this time, I could finally get to know her in person. This is an excerpt from my interview with her, which hopefully will be of interest to our English-speaking readers. 

Elena Malkova and her two children came to New Zealand in 2012. In Russia, she used to work in the professional circus.  Like most of us, she did not know anyone in New Zealand to start with. While looking for a gymnastics club for her daughter she made friends with some families who are now her real support and backbone in this country. First, she started working as an office administrator and completed all sorts of courses: language, computer, accounting… She kept looking for something of more interest to her until she got invited for an interview for Personal Assistant’s role at Auckland City Council. That was the beginning of her professional career.

When she found a gymnastics club for her daughter, she was offered to try out coaching there. She gave it a go and got drawn in. 10 years into coaching and after all sorts of courses to get a formal coaching qualification in New Zealand, she still thinks of gymnastics as a hobby. She earns her living from her main job as a Project Manager at Kainga Ora – Home and Communities. When asked what gymnastics means for her, Elena says that she loves being with children as a coach, especially during competitions. She formed a special bond with them, and feels that they need her for comfort and support, be it a hug or a talk. Each gymnast is an individual. Each one needs a special approach. And that’s what her life is about! She prefers to train little kids, 6-8 year olds, where she starts from scratch and six months later can see their first tiny victories. When they come out on the competition floor, as well as wanting them to win, she feels proud of the fact that they didn’t get scared, didn’t give up, but came out and accomplished their goal! This is already a victory for them. In actual fact, her little girls rarely leave competitions without medals.

Elena also coaches older children aged 8-17, quite successfully. In 2020 and 2022, she won the Club Coach of the Year trophy, and in 2022, received a medal for coaching services from Gymnastics New Zealand.

There is a group of children with disabilities at her club. In November 2022, Elena took a girl with Down syndrome to the Gymnastics World Championship in Italy, which she won and brought the World Champion medal to New Zealand. According to Elena, this was the best thing that had happened to her in her gymnastics career! Working with ‘sunny’ kids, their families and coaches from all over the world was an amazing experience, hard to put into words.

When asked about her future plans, Elena replies with optimism:  “I try to live for today and hope to train as long as possible. Working with children is my weakness, my strength, and my life”.

by Rimma Shkrabina, Auckland

(translated by Lena Naumova)