By Sue DeWerff
Jennifer Rowelette-Reneau has never been afraid of challenges. She has lived her life with the attitude obstacles can be overcome — and relishes opportunity.
Her petite frame, (she is all of 4’11 and ¾ inches) did not stop her from playing basketball in her high school days. She even won a scholarship to play point guard for Miami –Dade Junior College. At 17, she taught herself to surf and excelled in that sport also.
While a member of the University of Central Florida’s surf team — she was the East Coast Collegiate state NSSA (National Scholastic Surfing Association) women’s champion in 1990 — and won the U.S. Women’s Iron Surfing title in 1997. She has collected nearly 100 trophies and medals, despite any formal training in the sport.
In 2005, Jennifer was presented with what she admitted was then and continues to be one of her biggest challenges — one that came after the birth of her second child, Riley, now 10 years old who was born with Down syndrome.
Determined to give her daughter every opportunity to live a normal childhood, when Riley was just 7 months, Jennifer founded an annual beachside event with a purpose to give back to the community. Called the Smiley Riley’s Beach Bash, her intent was to invite intellectually challenged kids and their families to spend the day learning to swim, surf and enjoy time at the beach.
“Each year the support I got from the community was more overwhelming than the prior and the benefits I witnessed being received by the participants and their families were awe-inspiring,” said Jennifer.
“As a spin-off of this event, just five years later, in 2010, Craig Carroll and I co-founded Special Olympics Surfing of Brevard.”
Because of her long-time affiliation with Ron Jon’s Surf School, where she has been lead instructor for Disney’s Typhoon Lagoon location of Ron Jon’s Surf School for the past 20 years, Jennifer, along with her employer, Craig collaborated to convince Ron Jon Surf Shop and School to help promote and sponsor the Brevard Special Olympics Surf Team.
Together they launched and helped organize a statewide Special Olympics Surfing Championship in September of 2010. Jennifer has been the head coach since.
“With the help of volunteers throughout the community, our mission for Special Olympics Surfing of Brevard has been to teach individuals ages 8 through adults who have intellectual challenges not only to surf, but to enjoy competition and interaction with their peers,” Jennifer said.
“It’s been awesome to see how coachable these special needs kids are and how much they enjoy surfing and competing.”
“There are now a half dozen teams participating in Florida and Georgia — and my hope is to see that more states throughout the U.S. and world get involved in forming Special Olympics Surfing organizations,” she added.
Craig described Jennifer as someone who always focuses on helping others.
“She’s enthusiastic, willing and always able to make a difference. She was built for the job as Special Olympics Surfing head coach.”
This summer, Jennifer will continue to balance the many challenges attached to being a surf instructor, the Special Olympics Surf team head coach, and most important—her role as a mother of three.