Joy for Jane as family shares memories from LA Olympics

Jane pictured with Angela Litter and Suzanne Robinson, who are both coaches from Ripples Special Olympics Sports Club.
Jane pictured with Angela Litter and Suzanne Robinson, who are both coaches from Ripples Special Olympics Sports Club.

Jane travelled to L.A. three weeks ago to participate in the Special Olympics World Games, where she competed hard to claim the Team Ireland’s first medal on day one of the competition.

While she travelled with 87 other Team Ireland athletes, there were also a few very familiar faces on the flight as Jane was joined by her parents Helen and Walter, sisters Lesley and Stephanie, and Stephanie’s husband Martin.

“It was the experience of a lifetime,” shared Helen, who is incredibly proud of her daughter’s achievements.

“We all decided to travel to Los Angeles and support Jane, as we knew it was a once in a lifetime opportunity. It’s a totally different world than our’s over there.”

Helen and her husband have been deeply involved with the Ripples Special Olympics Sports Club for the past decade. The club is based at Brownlow and is made up of members of all ages and backgrounds.

“Our club has been up and running for 10 years and Jane’s been swimming all that time,” said Helen.

“The World Games are the highest level Jane has ever been at. Valerie Davison, her coach, came out of retirement especially to support Jane in the run-up to Los Angeles. Jackie McConville and the staff at Brownlow have been fantastic throughout.”

The Johnston family stayed in an apartment in Los Angeles, and spent their time between the World Games and doing a little bit of sightseeing.

“The opening ceremony was fantastic,” Jane’s dad, Walter, shared. “The Irish team got the biggest cheer - it was unreal.

“We went to see Hollywood and our daughters, Lesley and Stephanie, travelled over to visit Long Beach as well. On one of the days, we took Jane to see Sean bowling.”

Sean Campbell, who lives in Coleraine, scooped a silver medal in the ten pin bowling.

“She has made new friends during training, and got to know Sean as he was another Team Ireland athlete from Northern Ireland,” Helen said.

“There were six swimmers altogether in Team Ireland - four of whom were swimming in the pool and two who competed in the open water competition. The open water swimmers competed at Long Beach - it’s really interesting to see.”

Jane had no spare time to see the bright lights of Hollywood, as she trained in between competition days.

“The athletes went to Downey, a town just south of where the games took place, to train between races. All of the athletes work very hard - and they are very competitive.

“When Jane is racing, she could be swimming in lane one and know what score the swimmer in lane ten has achieved. She’s so tuned in, and always keeping an eye on the other competitors. In her first race - the 100M Backstroke - as soon as she had finished, she knew she had won.”

While Jane has had a pretty chaotic training schedule leading up to the World Games - travelling to Dublin to train with the Team Ireland athletes once a month - her post-Games life might not be any different.

“Jane’s never in the house!” her mum explained.

“She trains with Ripples twice a week and does ten pin bowling every Monday. That also takes place at Brownlow - she loves it. She has competed at the All Ireland Games in ten pin bowling, too, so it was quite a surprise when she was picked to compete in L.A. for swimming.”

It might seem like an exhausting lifestyle for the all-rounder but Jane seldom slows down, and spends a lot of her spare time walking with friends and her sister’s dog. As well as that, she goes to Eden Social Education Centre in Portadown from Monday to Friday each week - and was extremely eager to get back there after her transatlantic flight.

“Jane goes to Eden every day,” Helen said. “She wanted to go back the day after she got home from L.A. - she flew in on Tuesday night and was all set to go to Eden on the Wednesday! In the end, we settled for the Friday - the Monday wouldn’t do! She just wanted to get back to her friends and her routine.”

Jane is not short of friends, either, and has fast become known as a true heroine in her own neighbourhood and the wider community. The Team Ireland athletes were embraced by hundreds of friends and family members when their flight touched down in Dublin.

“Dublin was fantastic - it was an unbelievable welcome,” Walter said.

“It was really, really good banter down at the airport,” her mum shared.

“Everybody knows Jane and Jane knows everybody. We could be out at the shopping centre and people will walk past and say, “Hello, Jane!” We’ll turn around and ask, “Who’s that!?”

“She’ll tell us later, but it just shows how well she’s regarded in the community.”