Reflecting on the past two decades of my life, I’ve unearthed the essence of who I truly am. I stand as a survivor—a survivor of the insidious grip of narcissistic abuse that ensnared me in a shadowy realm for over a decade. It was a place where my identity slipped through my fingers, where doubt clouded my reality, and where fear held me captive in its relentless grasp.

“Kateryna,” they’d say, extending a hand in greeting. But in the twisted dance of a narcissistic relationship, even the simplicity of a name held a weighty significance. I had surrendered my name, my essence, in the relentless pursuit of acceptance from one who saw me not as a person, but as a commodity—devoid of individuality, stripped of significance.

I navigated through milestones, each one tainted by the corrosive touch of manipulation. Completing my third college degree should have been cause for celebration, yet the accolades were diminished to mere whispers—dismissed as inconsequential. Friends became an unwelcome intrusion, their presence deemed bothersome and forbidden. Even in the throes of motherhood, when the weight of responsibility threatened to overwhelm, seeking solace in antidepressants was met with disdain, labeled as an act of madness.

And as if to compound the isolation, I was never introduced to his family. I was deemed so insignificant that I did not deserve the courtesy of meeting his side of the family. Even grandchildren were not introduced. It became painfully clear that in the realm of the narcissist, people are mere pawns—either used or discarded at will. When family members no longer served his purpose, they were summarily discarded, depriving me and our children of the chance to know them.

But amidst the darkness, a beacon of light emerged—a chance encounter that would alter the course of my life forever. Introduced to the world of triathlon, I found a sanctuary where the echoes of my true self still resonated. Here, I rediscovered the resilience that had long lain dormant within me, and with each stroke, pedal, and stride, I reclaimed fragments of my shattered identity.

Though the road to liberation was arduous, every training session became a testament to my unwavering resolve. In the quiet hours before dawn, as the world slumbered, I would embark on my journey, fueled by a community whose unwavering support breathed life into my fledgling dreams. Their cheers ignited a flame of hope that burned ever brighter with each passing day.

In the year 2019, beneath the azure skies of Cozumel, I stood on the precipice of triumph. As I crossed the finish line of my first Ironman, tears mingled with sweat, a torrent of emotions unleashed. For in that singular moment, I knew—I was capable of forging my own path, of breaking free from the relationship that was slowly killing me physically and mentally.

Triathlon became more than a sport; it was my sanctuary, my salvation. Each stroke, each pedal revolution, each footfall carried me closer to freedom, a testament to the indomitable spirit that refused to be subdued. And when I soared across the finish line, it was not just a race I conquered—it was the shackles of oppression that fell away, leaving me liberated, unbound.

Now, as I stand on the precipice of a new chapter, I carry with me the wisdom gleaned from a journey fraught with hardship. My name—once stripped of significance—now holds a sacred resonance, a reminder of the strength that resides within me. And as I gaze upon the faces of fellow triathletes, each one bearing their own tale of triumph, I am reminded that within every finish line lies a story of resilience, of unwavering determination in the face of adversity.

To those who find themselves ensnared in the labyrinth of despair, I offer a beacon of hope—a testament to the transformative power of the human spirit. For within each of us lies the capacity to rise above, to shatter the confines of self-doubt, and to emerge, phoenix-like, from the ashes of our past. And as I continue to tread the path of endurance, I do so not just for myself, but for all those who dare to dream of a life unfettered by the shadows of the past.

In the end, my journey is not just one of survival—it is a testament to the resilience of the human spirit, a testament to the unwavering belief that within each of us lies the power to rewrite our own destiny.