Moscow native Olga Khokhryakova is a second-year graduate student in Community Health Promotion at the University of Arkansas. But she’s already contributing to her field in the way a young faculty member might.
Khokhryakova, a Fulbright Scholar, created an online platform called SameSport, which connects people with and without disabilities through shared sport activities. Her goal is to reduce stigma and prejudice, while enhancing social inclusion. She’s linking various fields in the College of Education and Health Professions, including exercise science, rehabilitation counseling, and public health.
In 2017, Khokhryakova launched the first database of sport clubs for people with disabilities in Moscow. After moving to Northwest Arkansas in August 2019, she brought the concept with her. Her long-term plan is to have SameSport chapters in every country.
Khokhryakova developed the project with help from the Social Innovation Initiative at the Office of Entrepreneurship and Innovation in the U of A’s Walton College of Business. She’s collaborating with former Russian athlete Anastasia Samoylova, who has participated in sports for people who are deaf or hard-of-hearing.
Khokhryakova doesn’t have a disability but was inspired to create SameSport after attending the Paralympics Games in Sochi in 2014. There, she saw blind people mountain skiing and people with physical disabilities confidently maneuvering snowboards, for example.
“Social inclusion is not a charity act with including someone who is excluded. We all are responsible for the quality of a society we live in,” she said. “As an example, research shows that often one of the main barriers for children with intellectual disabilities to be actively engaged in sports is an attitude in the community towards them. As a representative of the majority, I feel it’s my responsibility to act, and to participate in building a new normal.”
“Sports are recognized by the U.N. as an effective tool for development and peace building, as well as its contribution to reach Sustainable Development Goals by 2030,” she said.