As a member of the Penn State field hockey team in the late 1980s, Jill Radzinski had Olympic aspirations. Fittingly, her studies in athletic training involved the same goal.
While the former never materialized, Radzinski, who has been a member of the UC Davis training staff since 1997, did reach the Olympics in 2010 – as an athletic trainer for U.S. women’s hockey. It’s a role Radzinski reprises this year at the Sochi Games, where the Americans hope to challenge a Canadian team that has won the past three gold medals.
“Just like anything else, you put in a lot of time and energy, and sometimes the stars line up for you, sometimes they don’t,” Radzinski said. “And I’ve been fortunate.”
Radzinski began working with the U.S. hockey team in 2008, though she had worked with Americans in short-track speedskating. As the head certified athletic trainer for the hockey team, she treats injuries and oversees players’ rehabilitation while endeavoring with other performance staff , such as strength and conditioning coaches and massage therapists, to keep the athletes in peak shape.
The U.S. team enters the Olympics having beaten Canada four consecutive times in a tuneup exhibition series to end 2013, and Radzinski, speaking by phone from Boston before the team left for Sochi last week, said the Americans were “healthy and excited about this opportunity.”
Radzinski is as well. She still marvels over the experience of her first Olympics – of walking in the Closing Ceremony, of rubbing shoulders with some of the world’s top athletes in the communal dining facility, of “being a part of something that is much bigger than yourself.” Still, she said, “There are times I reflect on it, and I can’t even remember parts of the Olympics.
“It’s so full of that charged emotion for six months prior, and then you get there, and it’s escalated even more,” she said. “Then the Games are taking place, it all moves so quickly, and it’s over – poof, everyone’s gone.”
This time, Radzinski said, she hopes to experience the Games differently. While knowing her first priority is to the hockey team, she said she hopes her familiarity with the timing and a more compact setup in Sochi will allow her to “see more of the competition – be a participant in that way, too.”
Radzinski credits the rest of the UC Davis training staff with supporting her balancing the two obligations and said her experience with Team USA has in turn informed her work with college athletes. As for the time commitment – she said the team trained in Boston since September – those Vancouver Games showed the value of the returns.
“Sometimes, it feels like such a grind, and you’re thinking, ‘Man, can I do this again?’ ” Radzinski said. “And as you’re getting to the end, you think, ‘Yeah, I can do this again.’
“People call it ‘five-ring fever.’ You definitely get the bug. I just wanted to get involved and then to do it again. And I would love to do it again after this.”