At the finish line of Moscow Marathon, September 2019

My first story for Thrive Global more than two years ago was about my life-changing experience with running a marathon. Back then, it gave me a boost of confidence when I needed it the most, helped me become stronger and more resilient through the turbulent times and uncertainty of my professional life and allowed me to proudly call myself an athlete. Little did I know that turning into a marathon runner would change my life in a much bigger and more meaningful way.

It all started with a dream to take my running to the next level. Still full of adrenaline from finishing my first 26.2M in 2018, I made it my goal to finish a marathon abroad. With Berlin marathon coming up in the Fall, I set my eyes on it, but shortly discovered that it would be too costly and logistically complicated to make the trip, so I got on a quest to find other options. Moscow Marathon was no match for Berlin as it was much smaller and didn’t have the allure of being part of the Abbot World collection, but Russia was my home country that I haven’t visited in more than 10 years, and I felt intrigued by an opportunity to reconnect with my heritage and run through the streets of Moscow after all these years. So, on a whim, I signed up, paid the registration fee, booked my plane tickets, and off to Moscow I went.

As I was on the plane, it felt surreal. During my years in the US, my goal has always been to assimilate and become an American, without bringing much attention to my Russian roots. I felt excited and nervous at the same time – both because of the upcoming marathon and because I wasn’t sure if I would fit in, after all these years. I also started to question myself who I was – a Russian, an American or both? I still didn’t have an answer when the plane landed in Moscow on a gloomy September afternoon.

I had a day and a half before the start of the race, and I wanted to take a moment to walk around the city and feel like a tourist in my own country. As I was crossing the bridges and snapping selfies in front of the landmarks, an unexpected but very deep thought crawled into my head – everything around me was so breathtakingly beautiful and it was all a part of who I was, my heritage, my culture, and my roots. This thought had almost made me cry as I realized that that was a part of me that I wanted to hide, suppress, and deny all those years. That was something that I deliberately put aside and decided not to come back to, choosing to carry on with my new American life instead.

The marathon showed me Moscow from the sides I haven’t seen before – wide avenues with skyscrapers old and new, embankments and bridges, the world-famous sights of Red Square, small streets with tramway rails cutting them in half, parks and squares. With crossing every mile marker and running through each new neighborhood, I felt that I was getting more of my Russian-ness back and that made me feel proud, inspired and happy. Almost at the finish line, exhausted from the weather – we weren’t lucky that day with hail, rain and 37F degrees that day – and conquering the marathon distance itself, I thought about how incredible that would be to find a way to merge my current life in the US and my Russian roots that now I felt connected to more than ever.

Although my trip was coming to an end, this thought had stayed with me. I never stopped thinking about common threads that could unite my two very different but, at the same time, dear to my heart worlds, and make my life more complete, without choosing or making a sacrifice.

An answer came suddenly and at a very unexpected place – at a beauty store. As a PR professional in the beauty industry, I’ve been naturally interested in beauty products from around the world and was curious what products one could find in my home country those days. I didn’t know what to expect but was so pleasantly surprised to discover a variety of brands that were born and made in Russia. The only question was – why haven’t I seen them before in the US? Despite being familiar with skincare from Asia, Australia and Europe, I’ve never explored skincare from Russia and that made me wonder why. The products had potent clean skin-loving ingredients, they looked great, smelled great and felt wonderful on the skin, and it made me think of a bold idea of introducing these brands from my home country to my fellow American beauty lovers.

After a few months of research, conversations, testing multiple products and getting to know the Russian beauty scene, I knew that this is what I had to do. Not only it was an opportunity to bring innovation and amazing beauty products to the US – the market that seemed to have everything – but it would also connect my past and my present, changing my future career path and my purpose in life. Earlier this year, I launched my very first business –, the first Russian beauty store in the US, that celebrates the world-renowned beauty of Russian women and offers a sneak peek into my heritage and culture which I re-discovered after a long-lost connection.

You never know where crazy ideas or random decisions could lead you. In my case, a desire to run a marathon abroad and an almost accidental trip to my home country became a true-life changing experience, helping me evolve into an entrepreneur and reunite with my culture. As for running, I still enjoy an occasional 10K on my local trails and it continues to bring me energy, joy, fresh ideas and confidence that everything is possible.