America’s Tallest Person (at 7-foot-8), who moved from Ukraine to Rochester in 1989 (at age 7)
Rochester Magazine [horribly butchering the Ukrainian language]: Yak spravy [How are you doing]?
Igor Vovkovinskiy: Good. It’s getting better. I’m walking more. I spent nearly 14 months non-weight bearing after the last surgeries on my feet. I’m weak on my legs. I’m beginning to walk more. It’s getting there, very slowly.
RM: Vy rozmovliajete ukrajinikoju [Do you speak Ukrainian]?
IV: I speak mostly Russian. My mom speaks Ukrainian. I don’t know how that works, but we understand each other. I speak a little Ukrainian, but I’m more comfortable speaking Russian. In Kiev, the school I went to was Russian Language.
RM: You were in the movie Hall Pass?
IV: Someone from the movie saw my documentary (“Help! I’m Turning Into A Giant”) on TLC. They emailed me and asked me to come behind the scenes. While I was there, one of the Farrelly brothers, who were directors, sprang on me that the writers had added me to a scene. My jaw dropped to the floor. Hell yeah, sign me up! All of a sudden they’re putting powder on me, giving me a haircut. … Then I’m off to the scene. Just incredible. I had so much fun. I met Owen Wilson, Jason Sudekis, Jenna Fischer, Christina Applegate.
RM: Was it harder than you thought?
IV: While we were shooting the scene, it was embarrassing because it took me two hours to get my part right. I’m sitting by people who are getting paid big bucks. Owen Wilson is pretending to be passed out on the bar stools next to me. The jokes didn’t go right or the punch didn’t go right. I give so much more credit now that I saw how it’s done. You don’t realize that with each scene there’s 40 people—people for lights, for flooring, for furniture, for makeup, for everything. It was so much fun.
RM: What’s the most embarrassing song you secretly like?
IV: Taylor Swift’s “Shake it Off.” It’s a catchy song. I didn’t think I’d like it.
RM: I’ll accept that. I’ve got two daughters, and I may secretly like a T-Swizzle song or two as well.
RM: That’s what the cool kids call Taylor Swift.
RM: You told “60 Minutes” that when you moved here—as a (6-foot tall, 200-pound) 7-year-old—you thought you were coming here for a month of Mayo Clinic visits.
IV: Yes. But Rochester has been my home since we moved here at age 7. We’ve been back to Ukraine at least seven or eight times.
RM: Your heart is still in Ukraine?
IV: I don’t think it’s something that will ever go away. When my mom and I visit, we get so emotional. Leaving is so hard. We cry for days. It’s something that pulls you over there. It’s a different culture. A different way that people treat each other. Something about it, we deeply miss.
RM: Is this the house you first moved into?
IV: We built this house in 2000. We have the tall doorways, the cathedral ceilings. In the basement the ceiling is at least tall enough that I can walk through it. I can’t stretch my arms, but I can walk. And I have a custom shower.
RM: Best teacher you ever had?
IV: Mr. Tillman. It was Kellogg Middle School. Geography teacher. He knew all the tricks to get you to remember what you needed to remember. A fun guy. Always cracking jokes, telling stories.
RM: Who has the nickname “Huntington Beach Bad Boy”?
IV: Tito Ortiz.
RM: What’s Big John McCarthy’s fighting phrase?
IV: “Let’s get it on.”
RM: OK. You really do know your Ultimate Fighting Championship stuff.
IV: Yes. I’m a huge fan.
RM: What’s the last book you read?
IV: The book I finished last is called Escape From Camp 14. Currently I’m reading The Favored Daughter: One Woman’s Fight To Lead Afghanistan into the Future. Also, Supreme Conflict : The Inside Story of the Struggle for Control of the United States Supreme Court. I read European history, World War II history, history in general. Science fiction, fantasy, current events.
RM: Your mom is a nurse at Mayo?
IV: She’s an ICU nurse at Mary Brigh. She loves working with patients. Patients love her. She always fights for the rights of the patients. She’s really a patient advocate.
RM: What’s one characteristic you see in yourself that you got from your mom?
IV: I hope it’s caring for people.
RM: Are holidays similar between the U.S. and Ukraine?
IV: If kids expected to get presents, the kids had to work for it. For Christmas, you had to stand in front of the Christmas tree and recite a poem, do a dance, do something for the present. Kids for Christmas used to dress up in costumes their parents would make them. I remember, once, Mom made me a bear costume. The ears, the head. I had to recite poems. One of the gifts I got was a big set of Play-Doh.
RM: What’s something you’ve learned?
IV: People take everything for granted. Even simple things. I can’t go anywhere with my friends in their car. I can hardly go to anyone’s house because I’m afraid I’ll break their furniture. Their ceilings are low. Their doorways are low. The pain I have is pretty much 24 hours a day. Sometimes it’s so bad I can’t do anything useful. I try to think about something else. Read a book. Skype with my friends from Ukraine. … So, I think that even the simple things in life, people should be more grateful. Especially, you live in America. Really count your blessings. Really appreciate all of the little things you have.