Never Say Nyet
not even an auto accident could keep this moscow native from finding the good life in the u.s.
Natalia Sokolova has come a long way. Born and raised in Moscow, Miss April journeyed from the shadow of the Kremlin to the pages of Playboy by way of the University of Maryland and the Hawaiian Tropic I nternational competition in Las Vegas. But the trip wasn't easy: Five years ago, just after beginning her freshman year at Maryland, Natalia was in an auto accident that left her facing life in a wheelchair. "I returned from the dead," she says of her remarkable recovery. Now determined to explore her new life, our statuesque Russian beauty delivered her hard-earned wisdom over lunch in West Los Angeles: "My great-grandmother's favorite saying was, 'There's no such word as can't. There are only such words as don't want to.' That became my motto."
Q: How did the accident happen?
A: I fell asleep in the backseat of the car, and after that I remember only flashes. I woke up in the hospital. First the doctors thought I might not make it because I'd lost so much blood, then they said I would never walk again, that at best, I'd spend my life in a wheelchair.
Q: How did you take that news?
A: It was a total nightmare, being 17 years old and not being able to do anything. Before that I was very athletic. For me to be in a wheelchair for the rest of my life seemed impossible. My attitude was, I'm going to walk again, or I'm not going to live.
Q: When did you start to walk again?
A: It was six months until I took my first steps. Even now I feel some effects of the accident, but I am getting stronger. I'm not all the way back, but I can work out every day for an hour or so. I never had the time to do that before, because I was always so busy with school.
Q: Why did you shift gears from studying to modeling?
A: I had never really thought about modeling. I'm an honors student, and I thought about going right back to graduate school to get my MBA. But also, I wanted to take a break, to live a little. For the past four years, I have had no time off from school or work. And then modeling opportunities came along. Everything in my life has been circumstantial.
Q: How did you feel when you were approached by Playboy?
A: It took me a month to consider it. I was raised conservatively. My family is ancient, like a royal family. It can be traced back to the 12th century. So even though I've been on my own since I was 16, it was instilled in me that I could never even consider something like Playboy. But now I'm glad I chose to do it.
Q: So are you in America for good now?
A: I'm definitely going to stay in the U.S., and someday I want to own a business here. I miss my family, my dog and my friends, and I love Moscow because it's so beautiful. But I also love California. I love the weather. And I'm near the water. In Russia there are no oceans like the ones here, and it's so cold. I talked to my mom in Moscow, and it was -20 degrees Centigrade. When I walk outside and the sky is gray, it's depressing. I like sunshine and blue skies. If I can just steal my dog from my mom, I'll be happy.
Photography by Stephen Wayda