Letters from Biden and Warren help Acton gym owner, Concord athlete supports Ukraine

ACTON — The medal is proudly displayed, held in place by a thumbtack. The award is surrounded by photos of athletes and letters from the president and a senator.

But Joe Biden and Elizabeth Warren didn’t write to congratulate Pamela Callahan on her podium finish at a recent national meet. And the neighboring photos do not show demonstrations of triumph, but men bearing arms.

The Apex Performance message board in South Acton sums up a life of conflict for gym owner Oleksandr “Alex” Ponomarenko. He is proud of the athletes he coaches but also puts his passion at the service of the troops in his native Ukraine, which is fiercely defending itself against an invasion from neighboring Russia.

Ponomarenko, with the help of friends and community, constantly sends money – up to $10,000 at a time – to his native country to support the fight. A ribbon of MoneyGram receipts is pinned to the bulletin board, the funds used to purchase night vision goggles, bulletproof vests, helmets, communication devices and two cars painted green for camouflage purposes.

Other published photos show an Olympic marathoner on several occasions Oleksandr Sitkovsky with a gun on his shoulder; and world silver medalist weightlifter Anatoliy Stetsenko, who at 63 could have been one of more than 4 million people to flee the country. (Men between the ages of 18 and 60 are not allowed to leave Ukraine; they can be called up for combat).

“I ask: ‘what do you need’,” Ponomarenko said of his Ukrainian friends. “We need equipment. ‘Money for food?’ No. We need equipment now. Its very important.”

Ponomarenko, 64, who moved to the United States in 2004 with his wife and two children and has lived in Concord, Acton and now Stow, was in Ukraine last August as part of the Ukraine Day celebration. independence of the country. He has a sister who lives in Ukraine, but says, “I can do a lot more here.

Continued:Reports: Ukraine bans all male citizens between the ages of 18 and 60 from leaving the country

Callahan, a Concord resident, also embraced the cause. A look at his fingernails reveals his devotion: the five on the right painted blue, the five on the left yellow. The back of the silver medal she won for her second place finish in the high jump at the National Masters Athletics Championships in March features the words “SLAVA UKRAINE”.

Glory to Ukraine.

Callahan, 62, wrote letters to President Biden, Senator Warren, Senator Edward Markey and U.S. Representative Lori Trahan. The president answered first.

“Whether they sent me a personal letter or not, they needed to know that this is an issue that only a few people care about,” Callahan said of his reason for writing. “I understood that we did not want to go to war directly with a nuclear power, but that the Ukrainians needed sophisticated and modern military equipment which they did not have. It was an essential part of their ability to defend themselves.

Continued:UKRAINIAN CRISIS A family watches, worries

Biden’s March 16 response begins: “The prayers of the world go out to the brave and proud people of Ukraine as they defend their country against an unprovoked and unwarranted invasion by Russian military forces.”

Pam Callahan, 62, of Concord, is shown at Apex Performance, Acton, April 1, 2022. Trained by owner Alex Ponomarenko, she won second place in her age category in the high jump at the USA Masters Indoor Championships, March 20 in New York.

The letter ends… “With extraordinary unity and determination, the world is clearly choosing the side of peace and security.”

‘Just cross the bar’

Callahan, a graduate of St. Paul’s School in Concord, New Hampshire, who works in finance at Zelman & Associates, recently returned to high jumping. She trained with Ponomarenko for more than 10 years and aspired to run the half marathon distance before her surgery.

“I said to Pam, ‘This is not your event,'” Ponomarenko said. “As you age, you lose speed, power and coordination.”

He suggested the high jump.

“I just didn’t have any technique,” she said. “I don’t remember my coach in high school ever talking about acceleration, scoring and good steps. It was much more: ‘just pass the bar.’ »

Pam Callahan, from Concord, worked with low hurdles at Apex Performance, in Acton on April 1, 2022.

Callahan first attempted a comeback at the event in January. In February, she cleared 4-foot-2 to win her age group at the New England Masters Championships, which qualified her for the Nationals at The Armory in New York.

Her 3-foot-6 clearance put her in second place for the tell-all experience.

“It’s really something to see people of all different ages – many of them older than me,” she said. “You think, ‘why are they doing this?’ They do it for themselves, not to brag.

With the weather improving, there is talk of Callahan trying out the multi-event pentathlon and qualifying for next year’s nationals in Louisville, Kentucky.

“We’re going to work a lot more on it,” she said. “It’s hard to go without equipment and know what it feels like. But when it works, it’s fun. It’s fun to fly over the bar.

“They’re just great people”

Ponomarenko happily handed out “gifts” during Callahan’s Apex Performance interview: lapel pins with adjacent American and Ukrainian flags. Callahan was then allowed to take her medal home.

But the images – and the reminders of the war on billboards – remain.

“A lot of people want humanitarian aid, they want to do something for women and children,” Callahan said. “We want to do it too, but civilian lives are being lost. And the only way to stop this, clearly, is not to negotiate with (Russian President Vladimir) Putin; this will stop them in their tracks and set them back. And then we can feed people and clothe people.

Pam Callahan, 62, from Concord, worked with Olexandr "alexander" Ponomarenko, owner of Apex Performance in Acton on April 1, 2022. He coached Pam to a second-place finish in her high jump age group at the USA Masters Indoor Championships on March 20.

Senator Warren’s letter to Callahan includes the following sentence: “I will continue to support United States efforts to protect Ukrainian sovereignty.

This also goes for Callahan.

“Some people don’t know where Ukraine is and how big it is and it’s really nice to be able to promote the country,” she said. “They’re just great people. Great, talented, smart and hardworking people. It’s good to support another culture.

And people are really responsive.

Follow Tim Dumas on Twitter: @Twitter.