2017 Special Olympics NC Volunteer of the Year
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.”