A fiery accident nearly ended her dance career. But now, this Ukrainian native is living his dream as a Dallas Cowboys cheerleader

Third degree burns forced Zhenya Kolpakova to learn to walk and dance again. Pain? There is a small price to pay for a Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders uniform.

DALLAS — Watch the inspiring story of Zhenya Kolpakova on WFAA News at 10 p.m.

Whether you agree or not, many athletes and dancers dream of one of the most valuable franchises in all of sports.

But one of the most iconic parts of the team doesn’t even take a snap or score a touchdown.

If you’ve ever been, you know that games at AT&T Stadium don’t start until the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders are on the field.

And among the cheerleaders, Zhenya Kolpakova can’t help but smile – because she knows what was needed on that court.

“Every time I step on that court, I just think back, ‘Wow, that almost didn’t happen,'” Kolpakova told WFAA.

A little girl from Ukraine

Kolpakova grew up in Ukraine’s Dnipropetrovsk Oblast with her mother and sister. This may interest you : Arden Key: “We have to come ready to work…” | Interview. He credited his mother’s friends with the opportunity to move to a new land in Texas – full of new dreams.

“My mother’s friends at the time won a lottery visa and moved their family to the US and met a really great guy here who they thought my mother would really like,” she said. “So they introduced them and eventually he proposed and we moved to the US.”

He said the two texted and talked to each other for a few years and that he even visited them in Ukraine. In 2005, Kolpakova, her sister and mother packed up and moved to Mansfield, Texas, where she grew up.

“It was nothing like Ukraine, we lived in the center of Ukraine, so everything is within walking distance and people walk everywhere. So being inside the house and not knowing or knowing the language is an interesting time for us,” said Kolpakova.

Trying to fit in, Kolpakova found a passion: practice squad.

This led to him finally finding his new dream at university.

At age 19, a friend told her about a group she didn’t know much about: the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders. His friend convinced him to give it a try – for fun.

However, because he didn’t know the size of the Cowboys cheerleader, he said he wasn’t as prepared as he should have been.

When Kolpakova did not make the team, she promised to try out again and take it seriously to make the team.

But as life and career began to take over, she put off auditions over the years.

“Whenever the war started in Ukraine, I talked to my grandmother and she told me how you can’t live your life with regrets. You just have to go. You never know what will happen,” said Kolpakova. .

He described his grandmother, who still lives in Ukraine, as his foundation and the person who always supports his dreams. “He is the example I try to live by every day,” Kolpakova said.

So, at the age of 30, Kolpakova went to the test again. And this time she made it to the second round of performances, something to be celebrated.

But life had other plans.

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A “freak accident”

In addition to finding out she made it to the second round of auditions, Kolpakova said it coincided with her sister graduating from Texas A&M University. This may interest you : RIT Cheerleading Takes Second at Road to Daytona Showcase – Rochester Institute of Technology Athletics.

Kolpakova was in College Station with her family and had more than just graduation to celebrate.

All in all, they lit a pit in his sister’s townhouse to make s’mores. And then it happened: a freak accident.

Kolpakova said she was sitting next to the fireplace when “this ball of fire just came out of the fireplace, almost like an explosion out of nowhere. It flew right at me.”

“It landed right on my feet and my whole body caught fire.”

“My fiance and my mother immediately jumped on my body, took off my clothes and first tried to pull out my face and hair,” said Kolpakova. “It stuck to my skin and kept burning.”

He said the worst burns were on his legs and that the flames just wouldn’t stop.

“The pain was excruciating. It felt like I was just baked in an oven.”

“And all I remember is just sprinting into the concrete parking lot with my legs burning. It was like a scene from a movie or something, trying to get it off my body.”

His burns were so intense that local treatment in the area was not enough.

He had to be transported to Parkland Hospital in Dallas – a four-hour ambulance ride.

“Just the skin was hanging off. And it was a huge shock to me and I didn’t know what I was going to do next or what the next steps were going to be,” she said.

He was hospitalized for a week with various second and third degree burns.

Kolpakova said doctors told her she was lucky she wasn’t blinded or suffocated because the flames had reached her mouth and eyes.

“At Parkland, I was scrubbed when I got there, which was probably the worst pain I’ve ever felt. It’s like power washing. Not recommended,” he said.

He said he underwent several days of physical therapy in an attempt to regrow the burned skin.

“Every single piece of skin that burned, I had to move it. And the reason they said is if you don’t move it, it heals in that position,” he said. “You bend your legs and re-tear all the skin that grew back each time.”

And throughout his rehab, he couldn’t stop thinking about the shows.

With severe burns on her legs, she had to learn to walk and dance again. He just wanted to get through the recovery process.

“I wanted to live the rest of my life the way I had before,” he said.

And finally, the experiments continued.

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Making the team

The second round of tryouts for the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders came quickly — perhaps too quickly. On the same subject : Philadelphia Eagles Cheerleaders – Eagles Cheerleader Amy Pic. The team was behind him all the way and allowed him to submit a video for his second round of testing instead of performing in person.

The only obstacle that awaited him was the final.

With singing hair and no eyebrows or eyelashes, Kolpakova did not expect to make the team.

“I thought it’s just a wild card. There’s no way. I just went because I said if I don’t go, how do I know what would have happened?” said Kolpakova. “So I just wrapped my legs, bandaged the wounds, took some ibuprofen and went, drew my eyebrows, put on false eyelashes and went.”

Despite everything that happened to him, he received a very welcome realization: he could do it.

“Every time they called my number, I was shocked,” she said. “I thought, this is not my place. I’m injured. I don’t know how fast I’m going to heal. And I don’t know that they knew that either. I think they were just hoping, trying to give me a chance.”

“It happened so fast I don’t even remember. It was like a dream.”

Kolpakova thanked the DCC organization for all their support during her life-changing experience.

“They were there every step of the way from the moment I moved to Parkland,” she said.

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Family matters

And of course, one of the first people to hear the news was Kolpakova’s grandmother.

“At times like this, with what’s happening in Ukraine, any good news makes his day a little bit better,” Kolpakova said.

Kolpakova said she delayed telling her grandmother about the accident because she didn’t want to worry, since staying in Ukraine is already stressful.

“We didn’t know how he would react and we didn’t want to add more stress to the situation he was already in,” Kolpakova said.

“Tears of joy,” Kolpakova described how her grandmother reacted to the news.

“He was over the moon. He was so proud of me and cried. I cried,” Kolpakova said.

It was difficult for Kolpakova to put into words how much her grandmother and mother influenced her life and helped her achieve her dream.

“My grandmother and my mother did so much to help raise me and give me all the opportunities I’ve had in life. They had to sacrifice so much. With everything I do in my life, I try to think about wanting. that makes them proud?” he said.

“Am I beginning to understand what they had to give up to allow me the things I can accomplish in my life?”

And when Kolpakova took the field for the first time in the iconic Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders uniform, her family was on her mind.

“I saw my mom waving in the stands and I felt this wave of love from my family pass me by. And I almost started to cry when I try that the music is playing, I’m supposed to walk out on the field and I get emotional,” he said.

It was an experience “that almost didn’t happen”.

“Through the pain and the struggle, not letting it stop me, I know they’re proud of me, so that makes me proud of myself,” Kolpakova said.

Kolpakova said her grandmother will be visiting in December to watch her perform under the bright stadium lights of AT&T Stadium on Christmas Eve.

Education Specialist with a Bachelor’s Degree from Eastern Kentucky University with a concentration in Health and Physical Education/Fitness.

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