Paralympic Winter Games
7-16 March

A volunteer’s experience of Sochi 2014

Ksenia Onishchenko was one of 8,000 volunteers who helped make the Sochi 2014 Paralympic Winter Games the best ever, but she is the only one who contributed to the Closing Ceremony speech! 09 Mar 2015
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Sochi 2014 volunteers

Ksenia Onishchenko was one of 8,000 volunteers at the Sochi 2014 Paralympic Winter Games

ⒸKsenia Onishchenko
By Ksenia Onishchenko | IPC

The Sochi 2014 Paralympic Winter Games were a life-changing experience for me; an event that still inspires me to this day.

Sochi 2014 raised the bar for all future Games in every area, whether that be for athletes, National Paralympic Committees, spectators or TV viewers.

I have many great memories from the Paralympics, although my Sochi 2014 experience started as an Olympic Games volunteer where I met people from all over the world and took great pleasure welcoming them to the Black Sea coast and the Caucasus Mountains.

During one and a half months I helped IOC members and their assistants from a call-centre, took part in the organisation of the 126th IOC Session and worked with spectators in the spectacular Olympic Park.

Initially, I was not assigned a role for the Paralympic Games, but on 8 March, International Women’s Day, I was asked to cover for a Paralympic Family Assistant and spent the day working with IPC Media and Communications Director Craig Spence.

I was both excited and worried! But that day was outstanding and if I had a chance to live it again I would do it more than one time!

We visited so many places: his office in the Main Press Centre where he worked with his team, a cultural conference, a special event at PyeongChang House to look ahead to the next Paralympic Winter Games, the mountain’s Medal Plaza in Rosa Khutor and the German house.

I even got to meet IPC President Sir Philip Craven who was in a very good mood because his football team Bolton Wanderers had beaten Craig’s team Leeds United 5-1, a fact he kept reminding Craig throughout the day!

On that day I got to meet so many people in a very warm atmosphere and I felt inspired by the Paralympic spirit.

The next day I worked with another guest and his friends from Australia. I still remember how we were discussing the ice sledge hockey final when USA beat Russia 1-0 to win gold.

My guests were really impressed with the game, the way the sportsmen competed and how everyone supported their national teams.

All in all, sport united everyone – Paralympians, people of all ages, religions, statuses and nations.

This is what I understand the Paralympic Games is all about.

One of my highlights as a Sochi 2014 volunteer was attending the Paralympic Winter Games Closing Ceremony along with 40,000 other spectators, and this is where I want to share with you a little secret.

During his Closing Ceremony speech Sir Philip Craven delivered the line “Dai pyateru volunteru,” a phrase that a lot of Russians were using during the Games to give a congratulatory “high-five to the volunteers” for their hard work.

I had told Craig about this phrase during a car journey to a venue. He liked it and worked it into Sir Philip’s final speech.

For those that didn’t see the Closing Ceremony, Sir Philip was joined on stage for his speech by Ekaterina and Elizaveta Gulina, his two Paralympic Family Assistants, like me who were volunteers, and had worked with him during the Olympic and Paralympic Games. It was a very special moment.

I know all the volunteers were overjoyed at the IPC President recognising their contribution to delivering the “best ever Paralympic Winter Games”.

To have played such a small part in history filled me with great pride.

So inspired was I by my Sochi experience, that I now want to volunteer at the Rio 2016 Games.

Ksenia Onishchenko

Volunteer and Paralympic Family Assistant in Sochi