This is 30: a Milestone Birthday, My Life Story until Now, and the Biggest Lesson I’ve Learned in My Twenties

Hi all! The week since my last post has been a whirlwind: last Friday we flew to New York to spend the weekend with Rob’s family and attend our nephew’s christening, then came back to Washington on Monday just in time to celebrate my birthday the following day. The big 3-0 has finally caught up with me, and what’s a better way to celebrate it than with a giant vegan chocolate birthday cake?! Vegan chocolate birthday cakeYou know how milestone birthdays have a tendency to stress us out because we assess our lives and what we’ve achieved so far? Well, I’m glad to admit that I enjoyed my 30th birthday way more than the previous couple ones. And I’m not just saying this because I want you to think that I’m oh so perfect (spoiler alert: I’m not), but because I embraced everything that happened to me in my 20s as a pretty crazy whirlwind of ups and downs that taught me SO MUCH! I’m in a way better place now than when I was turning 20, I’m in better physical shape, and I have better judgment because of everything my life has taught me.

Speaking of life… today I’d like to share with you a few things about my life from long before I started this blog. In case you’ve ever wondered who the girl behind Vegan Runner Eats truly is, here are the events of my life that shaped me into the person I am today:

The Story of My Life, Summed Up in 10 Steps

1. I was born in Uzbekistan, a country in Central Asia that used to be a part of the USSR. I got to witness the last years of that empire as a child, and have memories of seeing endless empty shelves in grocery stores, food rationing coupons, and yet truly believe to this day that I had a happy childhood.

2. In those days, a lot of families in the USSR had a small patch of land outside of the city limit where it was customary to grow various fruits and vegetables to make up for the food shortage caused by the frivolous government policies. My family grew a variety of vegetables and fruit, and enjoyed the rich harvest of apples, apricots, peaches, cherries, nectarines, strawberries and grapes produced by a few fruit trees we had. The fruit alone tasted so delicious that to this day I haven’t found any fruit (be it organic, non-GMO, etc.) in any country I’ve lived since that tasted even remotely as rich and flavorful as what we used to grow.

3. When I was 13, my family moved to Russia. Even though we spoke the same language, Russian people in the area we moved to (3 hours outside of Moscow) seemed very foreign to me. My social awkwardness didn’t make things easier: I was never good at making friends, so for the first few years I basically spent all my free time by myself, doing lots of reading, drawing and daydreaming.

4. Once high school was up, I was debating between journalism and foreign languages as my college major. The choice eventually fell on foreign languages. During my college years, I studied English, German and French, but I never got enough practice in the latter two languages. English is the only language (besides Russian, of course) that I speak fluently.

5. Once I hit my twenties, I became anxious to make a change in the direction my life was going. I knew it would be hard for me as a graduate of a provincial college to find a job doing what I loved (which at the time came down to just using my language abilities). So at 21, I made a leap and moved to the United States, all by myself. My family still lives in Russia to this day. Six years passed until I saw my parents again.

6. I was full of naïve dreams at 21, but soon had to find out that ‘making it’ in the USA was not easy. Especially if you couldn’t convince the immigration services that you would be a great addition to the population of this country. For the first four years, I lived in Florida, working minimum-wage jobs, flipping burgers, cleaning condos, and sleeping on a couch in my friends’ living room.

7. I met so many people during my nine years of living in the USA and witnessed so many stories, from dramatic to hilarious, that it would be enough to fill a big book. One thing I learned for sure is that life’s toughest moments happen for a reason, often as a blessing in disguise. If it wasn’t for all the hardships, I wouldn’t be the person I am today.

8. I met my husband Rob online in 2010. He lived in Alabama almost a three-hour drive away from my town in Florida, and for the first 4.5 months of our relationship he would drive the distance to see me every weekend. Eventually I realized that there wasn’t much keeping me in Florida, so I moved to Alabama to be with him. We got married on September 8, 2012.

Rob and AlinaAren’t we just so purrrty?!..

9. Living in Alabama presented certain challenges to me as an immigrant. Alabama had passed its own immigration laws that put people like me under a lot of restrictions. Once my driver’s license from Florida expired, I was unable to get a new one in Alabama. For three years, I couldn’t drive a car or find a job. Thankfully, this was a huge opportunity for personal growth – I developed an interest in running and racing marathons and half-marathons, read a lot, started making sock monkeys and selling them on Etsy, and eventually, in May 2013…

10. …In May 2013, I decided to go vegan/plant-based after reading multiple books and watching documentaries like Forks Over Knives. I had thoughts about it before but thought it would be too hard in social situations. Since making the switch I learned that social situations may be hard at times, but every bit worth the effort when it comes to the difference my food choices make for my own health, lives of other living creatures, and the wellbeing of the environment.

The rest is history – I started this blog in July of 2013, ran my first marathon (second overall) as a vegan, and then in April of 2014, Rob and I made a cross-country leap and moved from Alabama to Washington state, which brought lots of positive changes to our lives. I am finally able to drive a car again (the laws in Washington are way more accepting of immigrants), I found a job, and as I’m turning 30 this week, I couldn’t be more grateful to my life for giving me the opportunity – and the strength – to successfully go through all the hardships of my 20s and come out on top!

The biggest lesson I’ve learned: don’t be afraid to live to the beat of your own drum. If everybody around you lives in a place that makes them miserable, it doesn’t mean that you have to stay there too – just get up and go. If you want to run a marathon but can’t find a training partner because nobody you know is interested in running – train by yourself. If you want to go vegan but don’t know another vegan person in your circle of friends, your town, your state – that’s fine, just go for it! And don’t listen to naysayers while you’re making your move! It’s your life, so you get to make your own rules and live by them, even if nobody else is willing to go there with you. (Of course, the rules you make still have to be in line with the laws of your state and country 🙂 )

Another lesson – when life gives you chocolate cake for your 30th birthday, dig right in! Homemade vegan chocolate cakeThe recipe for this cake comes from Susan Voisin’s FatFreeVegan.com blog over here. It’s not oil- or fat-free and may not be the healthiest thing you’ll eat all day, but on a milestone birthday like this, who cares?!

Question for you: What’s the biggest life lesson you’ve learned so far? Please share below, I’d love to hear your thoughts!

In case you’ve enjoyed this post, please share it with your friends or anyone who could benefit from it! And stick around for more awesomeness – you can follow Vegan Runner Eats by subscribing in the top right corner of this post, or by following the blog on Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and Instagram!

About Alina Zavatsky - Vegan Runner Eats

Alina first made a switch to a vegan diet in 2013 to optimize her athletic performance as a marathon runner. Being vegan eventually opened her eyes on the issues of animal welfare, environmental protection, human rights and feminism. Alina hopes that her blog will help its readers on their path to making this world a better place.
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20 Responses to This is 30: a Milestone Birthday, My Life Story until Now, and the Biggest Lesson I’ve Learned in My Twenties

  1. Cadry says:

    I loved this post so much, Alina. It was fascinating to hear about your life and journey. That’s disappointing that Alabama makes it so hard on immigrants to make a livelihood. I’m glad you’re in a more accepting state now. It must be hard to be so far away from your parents, but I’m sure they are very proud of your bravery and all you have accomplished. Happy birthday!
    Cadry recently posted…Vegan Etiquette: Birthday Parties, Buffets & MoreMy Profile

  2. Alisha says:

    Happy birthday! That cake looks AMAZING. I am SO jealous that you speak Russian. #languagegoals
    My blog is myrainydayreads15.blogspot.com if you care to check it out.
    Happy blogging!

    • Alina says:

      Thanks Alisha! Russian is a tough language to learn if you weren’t born in a place where everybody speaks it. Or at least that’s what I’ve heard.

  3. Camille says:

    Lovely post, thanks for sharing your story! I am also a 30 year old immigrant (Canadian/American living in the UK) and running has been a great source of anxiety relief and connecting with my local environment. Thanks for the inspiration, and I’ll definitely test the cake 😉

    • Alina says:

      Thank you Camille! I can totally relate with running – in fact, I didn’t take it up until moving to the US. Let me know how the cake turns out!

  4. Nadege says:

    I took 3 months of russian when I went to visit few years back. I loved it and did well, though the cyrillic alphabet was not easy, particularly the cursive part. I think russian is one of the most passionate language in the world. I am glad you have found your place in this country, particularly the West Coast and you are doing well. I don’t always have time to read blogs but yours is always a joy. Happy 30th birthday, wishing you a year of happiness, discovery and love!

    • Alina says:

      Thank you for the kind words, Nadege, glad to hear that you find reading my blog joyful! Yes, Russian alphabet can be tricky when you’re used to so many other languages having the same Latin alphabet. Not sure if I would have fared well learning Russian if it wasn’t my first language!

  5. Ger says:

    Happy 30th Birthday!! Hope it AWESOME! I turned 30 earlier this month as well. So many more adventures ahead!! and that cake looks YUMMY I have to try this recipe!! 🙂

  6. Sandy says:

    Wishing you a very 30th happy birthday, Alina! I always look forward to your blog posts. I think one important lesson I have realized since I retired 7 years ago is to do things I enjoy. Our time on earth is limited so don’t do things you don’t want to do. I walk a lot, volunteer at an educational farm, cook great vegan meals, and make quilts. My husband and I enjoy traveling together. Our daughter lives nearby and we see her and our grand cat frequently. We have good friends to dine and play cards with each week. Life is good!

    • Alina says:

      That’s so true, Sandy – life’s too short to do things we don’t enjoy! I think I’m beginning to embrace this fact more, hopefully this will lead me to doing new great things!

  7. Heidi says:

    Happy belated Birthday Alina! Love the summary of your life in 10 Steps.
    Your question of what is the biggest life lesson so far….gosh, that’s a tough one. I feel like I learn so many things everyday. I guess the biggest one that pops out to me is, you can never say “I love you”, or “Thank You” enough.

  8. Lindy says:

    Truly enjoyed reading this post and getting to know you a bit more 🙂

    Hope you had a wonderful day! That cake looks amazing, btw!
    Lindy recently posted…Bucks County Half Marathon – 2015My Profile

  9. Debbie says:

    Hi Alina,

    Happy Belated Birthday!!!

    Thank you for sharing!! I loved learning more about your history. You were so brave to leave your country by yourself.

    I’m so happy for you that you were able to move to an area more welcoming to immigrants. My husband is an immigrant (from Italy) but has been here for 30 years.

    Being from Long Island I never imagined I would stay in Pensacola but I fell in love with him and I don’t see us moving anytime soon. I try to focus on the aspects of life that I do like here and “bloom where I’m planted” like you did while you were in Alabama. As someone that prefers cooler weather and 4 seasons Pensacola is a tad too humid and warm for my taste.

    I so enjoy your blog and continue to look forward to your future posts.

    Sincerely,
    Debbie

    • Alina says:

      Thank you Debbie, glad to hear you’re enjoying my blog! It’s interesting how life can put us in places where we never thought we would be! Rob, my husband, is also from Long Island originally, but he met me, a Russian girl, while he was living in Alabama, and now we are in Washington State! I have fond memories of Pensacola, having done a few races there, eating at the only vegan restaurant in the area (Sluggo’s, hope it’s still open), and going to the Air Force History museum many times with Rob when we had nothing better to do 🙂

  10. Lesley says:

    Happy Belated Birthday Alina!

    You have an amazing story. No doubt you will continue to have a fascinating life. Thanks for sharing it with us!
    Lesley recently posted…Lemon Coconut OatsMy Profile

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