Irina took up sports when a child in her hometown, Penza. Sambo and judo martial arts were among her hobbies, but the girl fell in love with skates. “When I had free time after school, I rushed to the skating rink next to the orphanage, because I do love skating. Once a coach came to our school and asked who could skate. I ran up the first and exclaimed, “Me!” At the first training, he asked me to skate just a little bit, but I did 10 laps. They shouted to me to stop, but I kept skating and enjoying myself,” Irina recalls.
Working with a coach and her hard work helped Irina achieve success. In 2004, she headed to her first international competition in South Korea and came back with three golds along with a license for Special Olympics in Nagano.
“I’ve never thought that I will be going somewhere to compete in speed skating. Emotions were like any other athlete has who goes to an international tournament for the first time. When a person is from an orphanage having seen only the walls, travels to another city, another country, meets opponents, then there are definitely some worries. Anyway, I succeeded to take three gold medals,” the athlete notes.
Another success awaited Irina Nikitina at the Games in Japan. She won three more gold medals, and upon her return, she received an invitation to meet the President of Russia.
“Competitions in Japan are very memorable for me, emotions ran high. In Moscow, Irina Rodnina, Vyacheslav Fetisov, and Vladimir Putin signed each medal. After the Games, the athletes were invited to Moscow; we gathered in the Aleksandr Hall for an official meeting. The Special Olympics gave me everything that I lacked in the orphanage – confidence, goals in life, family,” says Irina, who believes that such competitions are very important for children.
“It is essential to engage children who live in boarding schools, orphanages, or special schools. Even those children who live with their parents often do not know about Special Olympics, where the child could fulfill himself or herself. Here, every child anyway remains a winner, even if he or she walked the distance. They will still be the first, will receive vivid emotions and a sense of admiration,” notes the Games multiple winner.
Irina motivates other children for sports with her own example, and she is happy to share her experience and help others: “Sometimes athletes from other cities who like my skating come up to me and ask how many years I have been training. When the guys see that there is an opportunity to show such a technique, they endeavor for this, they work more on themselves. For example, Ekaterina Zubova from Moscow, having once performed in hockey skates: when she saw my skating, she came up and said that sooner or later she would beat me by all means. So she raised her bar very high, achieved results, thanks to the fact that she followed an example from others.”
Irina’s sports achievements extend beyond short track speed skating. Recently, she got interested in cycling and dreams of performing at the Paralympics. With such a character the athlete will undoubtedly succeed. She admits that if she wants something, she does everything to pull it off.