As Jayne Radionov stood in the middle of the rollerskating arena at the 2018 Special Olympics MENA Games, she couldn’t help but feel a little overwhelmed by the entire experience. It’s understandable of course: she was a long way from home and had a very important role to play.
The longtime Special Olympics North Carolina volunteer was a rollerskating technical delegate at the MENA Games, preparing local leadership to host the 2019 Special Olympics World Summer Games. Since 2005, Radionov had donated so much of her time and passion to Special Olympics and while she may never have dreamed of ever taking that involvement overseas, she’d always known that her life would be dedicated to people with intellectual disabilities.
“My grandparents ran an Easter Seals camp, called Camp Sunny Side in Iowa and ever since I was 3, I joined in the activities and volunteered. My passion for working with this population was cemented early on and I knew that I would make it my career,” explains Radionov.
Despite her lifelong involvement with people with intellectual disabilities, it wasn’t until she began teaching at Carter Vocational High School in North Carolina that she was introduced to Special Olympics.
“A fellow teacher asked for my help with practice in athletics, bowling and volleyball. I quickly realized that I loved it! I began coaching athletics and gymnastics shortly thereafter, but once I began coaching rollerskating in 2008, I found my niche.”
A rollerskater since childhood, Radionov quickly began sharing that passion with the athletes she coached.
“I love sharing skating with others and watching the sport grow in popularity, but it wasn’t always like that! When I first started coaching rollerskating, we practiced in the hallways at school – the janitor wasn’t too happy about that! Thankfully we found a local rink that let us practice regularly.”
Radionov has gone on to serve on the rollerksating Sport Development Team and act as venue manager for Special Olympics NC’s state-level competition (positions that helped earn her the 2017 Special Olympics North Carolina Volunteer of the Year award), but her favorite role always has been as coach.
“You’re so connected with your athletes. Beyond celebrating their achievement in sports, I’ve celebrated birthdays, graduations and all the big milestones. I’ve made such amazing friendships with these men and women; they’re family now. There’s no special one moment, but rather each moment with these athletes is a gift.”
That’s why her role at the 2018 Special Olympics MENA Games was such an honor. Cultural and language differences didn’t stop friendships that would last long past competition from forming.
“When you’re sitting at the Opening Ceremony and you’re mixed together with all sorts of different people and begin conversations, it’s powerful. It’s life-changing.”
From the school hallways in Winston-Salem to the roller rink in Abu Dhabi, Jayne Radionov’s volunteer role has become larger than she could have ever imagined, but she wouldn’t have it any other way.
“I feel blessed to be a part of something that’s so important. This experience, watching athletes succeed in a sport I love: it leaves you with no words.”