Lasting legacy

CHARITABLE SPIRIT: Elena Semikina is using the inspiration of her friend, Cristina Kartavenkova, as the drive to start an organic skincare line. Kartavenkova died of cancer before getting to see Semikina don the Miss Universe Canada tiara.

Former Miss Universe Canada keeps memory of friend alive in her work

ormer Miss Universe Canada, Elena Semikina, stands at six-foot-one with long golden locks splaying out across her shoulders like silk threads ready to be woven, but it’s her heart that is full of gold.

Born in Russia, living for a time in Moldova, before settling in the Bathurst and Steeles area of North York, she’s candid about the fact she almost never ran for Miss Universe.

It was her best friend, Cristina Kartavenkova, who applied for her back in 2007 and when the Miss Universe pageant came calling, Semikina balked.

“I thought it was a scam. I didn’t know what it was all about,” she said. “I just ignored it, but when they contacted me they said that I missed the deadline.”

But Kartavenkova, who was being treated in Austria for fourth stage aggressive B-cell Non Hodgkins lymphoma, sent an application through Semikina’s email as the two were sharing addresses to keep track of fundraising to help pay for her treatment in Europe.

The then 23-year-old Kartavenkova would never see her best friend don the tiara in 2010, representing her new home country.

“(Miss Universe) kept my application for a year but unfortunately she was dead. It was three months after she died,” Semikina said. “I then decided to join because at that moment I didn’t realize it was a sign but I guess I did.”

The experience let out the inner philanthropist in Semikina.

“It was an eye-opener for me because I just realized in my situation I did with some girls, that they didn’t succeed if they didn’t win,” she said. “In my situation it was a statement.

“I realized if it didn’t happen it meant there was something else for me.”

Her work with Nicaraguan orphans, and further charity organizations led her on her own path to entrepreneur, as she introduces a skincare line for women called Crisele, name for the first four letters of Kartavenkova’s given name and Semikina’s.

Some of the proceeds from the product line will also help support a new foundation called Make Happy, which is geared to help women suffering from cancer.

“The cause behind it is to pretty much remind women that beauty comes from within and that skincare line will have inspirational messages,” Semikina said. “It will be that holistic approach and empowering angle.”

And it’s all from her strong friend who fought a two-year battle valiantly.

“Her story was a very emotional one,” Semikina said. “She pretty much taught me to look at this life with a very optimistic and positive angle, and to never give up.

“Throughout her two-year journey, they were supposed to operate on her in Russia, but a doctor in Austria decided to bring her to Austria and give her two years of life,” she added. “The doctors were so shocked because she was so strong and so positive, that they asked her to become a motivational and inspirational speaker.”

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