I was born in Kyiv, Ukraine on May 4, 1970. Since childhood, I was drawn to the sky and was put into rapture from aircrafts. I still have school notebooks with drawings of different models of aircrafts, mainly ones I invented myself. Since those early years I dreamed of being an aircraft designer. In the fifth grade, I decided that I would learn the profession at the Moscow Institute for Physics and Technology (MIPT). When the time came for admission to university, my father, who was in charge of the department at the Institute of Cybernetics in Kiev, told me that to manage flight of a plane is much more interesting than to build it. So, I transferred from Physics Department of Kyiv University (I hadn’t been accepted at MIPT on my first attempt) to the Faculty of Management and Applied Mathematics at MIPT when there was much more competition for a position then this had been at admission. I was surprised to find that I could easily handle the coursework. I even passed exams in advance, as long as I disciplined myself and did not neglect my studies. In my case stories about burning the midnight oil at MIPT were a myth. During my final years at MIPT, I became very interested in the field of project management. In 1995 I participated in the first program for future managers of Ukrainian projects, organized by the Economic Development Institute of the World Bank in Washington DC. Today I’m still working in this field, specialising in the corporate culture of project management, project portfolio management, process optimization and improvement, quality management, and so on. My full professional profile is available on LinkedIn.
In my youth few people extremely inspired me to believe in myself. They helped bring my inner strengths to the fore. One was Nadiya Dmytrіvna – a teacher of Ukrainian language and literature at Kyiv High School #32. The Ukrainian language was not easy for me and many of my classmates spoke it better than I did. But she gave me an A – for effort. It inspired me to try even harder.
Svetlana Borisovna Kishko was an English teacher at the same school. I joined her group because I heard that people taking it were sweating from the work. Thanks to her, I learned English. Our acquaintance began when she took my handwritten vocabulary, threw it out the window and told me to rewrite it the next day. It seems like I behaved wrong on her lesson :) I remember a conversation with her, when I told her that I would not be limited by boundaries – I would always go beyond them. Sometimes she also gave me higher marks than I earned and I blushed and felt the need to work harder. I tried and succeeded. Her poetry evenings where we read English poetry, staged plays, sang songs – still appear vividly before my eyes and warm my heart.
I saw a man pursuing the horizon;
Round and round they sped.
I was disturbed at this;
I accosted the man.
“It is futile,” I said,
“You can never —”
“You lie,” he cried,
And ran on.
When I was a student in the Physics Department at Kyiv University, Mr. Korsak, a lecturer in Physics – gave me great confidence in my abilities. He just said, “Lebedev can solve anything!”. When I had a difficult homework – I researched the problem in the literature, was trying new approaches and … found solutions. Often, I was the only one in the group who solved the problem.
My parents taught me sports right from childhood. I did figure skating and swimming until my mother brought me to the cross-country skiing. This was in 1982. From that time skiing became the main sport in my life. In eighth grade, I was 3 seconds over the standard of Master of Sports in the 10K championship of Ukraine in Sumy. By then I already knew how to overcome fatigue and to give 100% of yourself.
In 1991, when I was a second year student at Moscow Institute for Physics and Technology, there were two important events in my life. On August 7, my wife Irina gave birth to our daughter Anastasia, who received her spiritual name Alakananda in 2005. (A year later, in 2006, wife also received her spiritual name – Atandra) And in December I attended a lecture on the philosophy of Sri Chinmoy. I was very surprised to read on a poster with the title “Joy and Happiness” in the student cafeteria in the town of Dolgoprudny that “the world-famous Sri Chinmoy Marathon team sponsors more than 500 events around the world, from fun runs for children up to multi-day races.” Although I knew about physical intensity and explosive dynamism in sports, I had not previously seen this combination of dynamism and spiritual practice and meditation, which in my view could be undertaken only in calm situations where there are no distractions. I really liked the approach of the Master to life: in order to reach spiritual heights you don’t have to give up work, family and go to Himalayas. You just need to bring a new dimension to your daily life. This is the practice of concentration and meditation on the spiritual heart and communion with the inner world.
With wife and daughter at Disney World, Florida USA, 2014
Since then I have been practicing meditation for more than 23 years under the guidance of Sri Chinmoy. I’ll never forget my first meeting with him in New York in 1995, where I went to participate in a project management program. Although I had been his student for four years, this was our first meeting on the physical plane. I was struck by his eyes most of all: I was expecting to see and I did see them glowing with the heights of the real Yogi. But I also saw mastery over matter and absolute practicality in the outside world. I had never seen this combination before! I also remember that my mind said, ‘Look, the great Master is before you, admire him!’ But in my heart there was a very calm feeling “He is your true friend, and you have known him for many, many years …”
This approach of focusing on the spiritual heart and manifesting the power of peace, balance, self-confidence and determination to achieve the goal, began gradually to yield tangible results in my life. In 1994, I ran my first marathon (42.195 km) in Moscow in 2:46:04. The fact that I ran a marathon on my own and at a good time was a big surprise to my ski coach at that time – the Olympic champion Lyubov Zabolotskaya. When she learned that I had started vegetarian diet, it battled her completely.
I need to mention that the point at which I began to dream of running a marathon was when my father ran the Moscow International Peace Marathon in 1990. He came home tired and exhausted but glowing with happiness. It was his first marathon and his time was 3:08, at the age of 49. In 2002, after I completed a 13 hour race in Moscow and a 47 mile run in New York, my father and I ran the Berlin Marathon together. At 37 km he waved at me and said, “Come on!” as he passed me. But I couldn’t keep up. Then he finished a marathon in 2:53:31 at the age of 61. My time was 2:59. And in 2014, he inspired me incredibly, having run a marathon in Turkey in 3:40! And it was +36C … at the age of 73! He won a gold medal in his age group and became the European Champion. Once, at the limit of exhaustion at the 3100 mile race, I thought that I would no longer run long distances. But seeing the example of my father, I understood that the retirement was still far … Here you can read more about my father’s running.
If after my first marathon in ’94, somebody said that I would run 47 miles in two years – I would have laughed. However, in 1996 I ran 47 miles for the first time in New York in 6 hours, 44 minutes. Since then I have run this distance many times and even won the race in 2002 with a time of 6:18. And if at that time somebody had said that in 2 years I’d be at the start of the 3100 Mile Race longest footrace in the world of 3100 miles, I would have said – impossible! But in 2004, I became the first runner from a former Soviet countries, to crosse the finish line of this race. Here is what I said at the finish:
“I will run 3100 miles again and again and again, because there is so much love and inner dimension … I do not know how to describe it. It is incredible to feel it. And I’m so grateful to God that He has given me the opportunity to make a small contribution to the progress of mankind, to the establishment of peace and love in the world ”
Sri Chinmoy hands me the trophy the
day after my first finish in the 3100 mile race in 2004
In all these cases, when new, unexplored horizons beckoned me and challenged my preconceptions of life, I was seeking the inner impulse and the warmth of the heart, which has become my indicator for right action. If I had listened to the arguments and cold water from my mind, I would have never found out what I could do …