Something wonderful happened in 1992 to Svetlana Nasibulina when she was living at an orphanage in Russia – the 5-year-old learned she’d been adopted by a couple in the United States.
She left behind her job of doing odd tasks, caring for the other children and handing out medicine at the orphanage and learned a few words of English – “mama,” “papa” and “I love you” to use on her new parents, whom she’d seen only in a photo album they sent her. She got a new name too, Justine Kish.
“I was learning as much English as I could to impress my new family,” says Kish, who grew up in Cramerton and appears with the first all-female cast on the Fox Sports 1 reality series beginning next week, “The Ultimate Fighter.”
Kish was speaking English in sentences in about a month and was fascinated with her new life in the United States. In the St. Petersburg orphanage, the children could rarely go outside because they didn’t have coats. They took baths once a week in sinks. When Kish arrived in the U.S., she surprised her new mother by doing household chores like washing clothes and sweeping the kitchen, things she did at the orphanage.
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Her new father was a doctor in charge of an emergency room in western Pennsylvania. He died in a car accident a year after she arrived. She and her adoptive mother, Laurel Kish, moved to Cramerton afterward to be nearer Laurel’s adult children.
Laurel put Justine into as many sports as she could to keep her occupied.
“It was impossible to wear her out,” her mother says. “She had more energy than anyone I know.”
Justine excelled at athletics at Gaston Day School, Cramerton Middle School and South Point High School in Belmont. She also did well in the classroom.
“My mom would take me from school to three different sports in the same day because I had so much energy. Gymnastics to soccer to ice skating lessons,” says Justine. “She’s the most selfless person on this planet. She put 100 percent into me.”
Justine, now 26, started with karate at 12 and went on to earn a black belt. She went on to kickboxing and other martial arts. She was a junior at UNC Charlotte studying kinesiology when she got a chance to go to Thailand and compete.
There she mastered Muay Thai, known as the full-combat “art of eight limbs” for its combination of attack with elbows, fists, knees and shins. It’s as big in Thailand as the NFL is here.
She now teaches and coaches Muay Thai and fights professionally, splitting her time between Los Angeles, Thailand and Cramerton.
In “The Ultimate Fighter,” debuting 10 p.m. Wednesday on Fox Sports 1, Justine and 15 other 115-pounders live together and compete for the first-ever UFC strawweight championship belt while being coached by UFC lightweight champion Anthony Pettis and No. 2-ranked lightweight contender, Gilbert Melendez.
It’s an interesting cast that also includes a kickboxing champion, an astrophysicist, a former professional hockey player and a fighter born addicted to heroin.
Justine says she loves traveling to teach martial arts and is adept at picking up other languages, including Thai. She also remembers a little of her Russian. “Words for ‘yes,’ ‘no,’ ” she says, “I remember a few things. For whatever reason, ‘bad girl.’ ”
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