A fitness fanatic born with missing limbs due to radiation from the Chernobyl nuclear disaster has defied all odds to become a competitive runner and bodybuilder.
Abandoned-at-birth Tatsiana Khvitsko, 24, from Belarus, runs half marathons and has made a name for herself in the crossfit and bodybuilding scene.
But Tanya had a rough start in life after her parents sent her to an orphanage shortly after birth.
She was born with no legs, just three fingers on her left hand and one on her right – abnormalities which doctors attributed to radiation exposure.
Tanya was born just four years after the 1986 fire and explosion at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant which released enormous quantities of radiation across Eastern Europe.
Like many of the disabled children in the country, Tanya was sent to an orphanage shortly after birth where she learnt how to walk on her knees.
Having spent her young life in an orphanage Tanya assumed she had no family and was delighted when she was adopted and moved in with her parents and brothers and sisters.
But it wasn’t until she was 13 that she learned the truth about her family.
‘One day I saw a picture of my mum, when she was 13, and we were identical. I asked my mum and she broke down crying.
‘She said she was my biological mum and had given me up when I was a baby – but brought me back home four years later.
‘They had kept it a secret from me that I was their biological daughter. I had no idea, I always thought I was adopted.’
Tanya does not hold a grudge against her parents for giving her up and believes they had her best intentions at heart.
Just a year after Tanya moved back home, she was sent to a boarding school in Belarus to live with other disabled children. But it soon became apparent the country would not be the best place for someone with her disabilities.
Hope came in the form of American doctors affiliated with the charity Project Restoration who visited Belarus looking for children in need.
They discovered 6-year-old Tanya and flew her to Kansas City where she was fitted with new prosthetics. And every summer after school finished Tanya would travel the 5,000 miles alone to receive help.
She was welcomed into the homes of three host families who she still sees once a week – and was even a bridesmaid for two of her sisters’ weddings.
Tanya says she found the first few years living in a foreign country difficult. But eventually she fell in love with the United States and the freedoms she was allowed.
While she would be stared at in her native Belarus for having prosthetics, Tanya said the only attention she gets in America is positive.
‘People would treat you differently in Belarus. I wasn’t allowed to wear skirts or dresses that showed my prosthetic legs. Here in Kansas, no-one cares.’
In 2008 Tanya made the permanent move to Kansas City and enrolled at university. Her attention soon turned to running and a company in Florida generously donated a pair of running legs.
‘The moment I put on my blades I felt like I was flying. I was running so fast someone had to catch me because I didn’t know how to stop.
‘I’ve run ever since, I want to feel that feeling of flying over and over again.’
Just three months after receiving her blades, Tanya competed in her first 5K run and has since raced two half marathons and dozens of 10Ks.
Tanya challenged herself more and took up crossfit, a full body workout using a combination of cardio, strength and weight training.
But exercises such as squats or pull ups require modifications. She has to use straps to lift weights and needs to keep a crash box behind her to complete a set of squats.
And Tanya admits to being angry at her body’s limitations.
‘There are times in my gym where I’ll do a workout and I feel frustrated because I have to take time to do the exercises. I have to try to figure out how to do the moves when the able-bodies are doing the workout fine. But I’m exploring my disability and realising what I can and can’t do.’
And despite Tanya’s upbeat personality and positive outlook, she admits her disability can get her down.
‘At times I do wish I was different. I’m athletic but I’m very girly, I love make-up and I love dressing up. I love to go out with my girlfriends shopping or to a party.
‘Sometimes I wish I had legs to wear heels,’ she continues. ‘But at the same time I don’t know if I had legs if I would be as passionate as I am. I don’t think I would be as grateful as I am today.’
Tanya has been inundated with support from strangers on social media who have seen her run.
‘I got so many girls messaging me saying how I inspired them. I just want to show disabled and able-bodied people that you can do anything.
‘Your body doesn’t hold you back and if you’re determined enough you will succeed.’