Inspirational words fire Carifta hopefuls
Bermuda’s Carifta team, minus those athletes based overseas, were given encouragement and a history on Bermuda’s participation at the regional event from former athletes before their trip to the Cayman Islands for the 48th Games.
Thirteen members of the team were in the presence of some of Bermuda’s Carifta heroes over the past five decades last Friday when the Bermuda National Athletics Association hosted a camp for the team on Ports Island.
Eighteen former athletes accepted the invitation and shared their experiences of Carifta, including Donna Raynor, the president of BNAA, who acted as facilitator of the event, posing questions to the past athletes.
Raynor competed in the 400, 4x100 and 4x400 metres at Carifta from 1974 to 1977 and won bronze in the relay in 1974, bronze in the 400, gold in the 4x100 and silver 4x400 in 1976 and silver in the 4x100 and 4x400 in 1977.
The athletes listened intently as Branwen Smith-King recalled her experience of winning Bermuda’s first Carifta medal, a gold in the shot put at the inaugural Games in Barbados in 1972.
“When you go down to Carifta you are not just representing your country, but yourself, family and friends,” said Smith-King, who has returned to Bermuda after many years living in Massachusetts where she was the track coach at Tufts University.
“I felt privileged to be able to do that and hopefully you all feel the same way. Representing Bermuda was an honour. I loved track and field so much that I became a college coach.
“Track and field is a labour intensive sport and in order to improve by a tenth of a second in the 100 metres, or a foot in the javelin, you have to put so much effort in.”
They also heard from Debbie Jones-Hunter, who won a total of 21 medals between 1972 and 1977 and was the inaugural winner of the Austin Sealy award for outstanding athlete in the 1977 Games.
“For Bermuda to win the award first before any of the other islands, I will never let that go,” Jones-Hunter said. “I still have the trophy, still sitting on my bookshelf.”
Sprinter Candy Ford also won the Austin Sealy award in 1981 after winning the 100, 200 and 400 in Bahamas.
Sonya Smith, whose record throw of 53.98 in the javelin still stands after 40 years, was also at the camp, along with sprinters Cal Dill, Gregory Simons, Norbert Simons, Kyle Webb and Devon Bean, the national coach, who will accompany the team along with former Carifta athletes Terry-Lynn Paynter, the manager, and Jerome Richards, the assistant coach.
“When I competed at Carifta there was no under-17s, so I broke that record when I was 15 years old!” Smith recalls. “Today, that record still stands, 177 feet, one-and-a-half inch.”
Kyra Scraders and Justin Donawa, two more recent medal winners, also turned out to encourage the athletes. The pair won bronze medals at their first Carifta in Jamaica in 2011, Scraders in the under-17 15,000 and Donawa in the under-17 triple jump.
Scraders won gold and silver in the 800 and 1,500 in Martinique in 2014, while Donawa landed the triple jump gold in the 2012 Games in Bermuda when Scraders picked up the silver in the 1,500.
“Competing at home was a big advantage for me and the rest of the team,” said Donawa, whose father Jay is also a former medal-winner. Jay’s brother Michael also won medals at Carifta.
“In 2012 that [competing at home] helped me to win my event, but it wasn’t easy by any means,” said Justin, a Bermuda footballer. “It was one of the best moments in my track and field career.”
Said Jay who was at the National Stadium to watch Justin win the gold: “As a parent it was nerve-racking to watch. I was actually helping out when he started to jump.
“When he took the lead, it was just a matter of watching what the other competitors were doing. When I saw them falling short and the last jumper came up slightly short, I cried a little bit.
“I was proud to see, as an athlete myself, what my child was going through. I was a silver medal-winner in 1989, he was a gold medal-winner, and my brother [Michael] won a couple of gold medals.”
No doubt the thought of competing on home soil gives the present members of the team something to think about before next year’s Games. They were urged to believe in themselves and to be prepared mentally for their events.
“When people talk about preparing, one thing that really drove me to compete well was the Jamaicans because they always thought they were the best and I said, ‘No way are you better than me’,” Jones-Hunter said.
“No matter what it took, I ran with bloodied feet and blisters in Carifta. You have to believe you are the best, believe in yourself.”
Bermuda hosted the first Carifta Games in 1975, fielding a team of some 50 athletes. The year before, the relay team of Cal Dill, Mike Sharpe, Glenn Lake and Norbert Simons set the Carifta record in the 4x100 relay at the Games in Jamaica. After that, Gregory Simons joined Dill, Sharpe and Norbert Simons on the relay team.
“Out of the guys, I was the youngest,” Gregory Simons recalled. “We were together for a number of years, competing overseas.”
Jones-Hunter advised the athletes to always strive to do their best at the Games. “When you are at a track meet, you never know who is looking at you,” said Jones-Hunter, who earned a scholarship at Tennessee State University after being spotted by their women’s coach.
“After Carifta, I went to the Pan American Games and they used to have races before the meet just for competition. I ran against two Americans and two Mexicans and came third behind the two Americans, but I didn’t realise that the [Tennessee State] coach was coach [Ed] Temple who coached all the Olympians.
“That’s where I wanted to go to university and because of my performance and because I was very respectful, coach Temple told Mr Longe that he would like to have me at Tennessee State.”
Raynor noted that inevitably athletes could find themselves competing in events against team-mates, as Caitlyn Bobb and Ketura Bulford-Trott will do in the under-17 girls’ 200; Nirobi Smith-Mills and Sancho Smith in the under-17 800; Johndell Cumberbatch and Ryan Outerbridge in the under-20 5,000; Suresh Black and Mikal Dill in the under-20, and Black and Clevonte Bean in the 200.
Za’Kayza Parsons, who will compete in the under-17 100, long jump and 4x100, is the team captain.
“You have to come with your best effort,” urged Alexis Bean, who competed in middle-distance races against her sister Taylor-Ashley and Ashley Berry.
“We would try to have a strategy and work together in the pack, but when we got to the [start] line we had tunnel vision. It’s you against everybody else.”
The team, the bulk of which departs today, has 12 members competing in their first Carifta. Raynor felt the youngsters benefited from listening to the former athletes.
“From my standpoint, it achieved the objective we wanted, which was to let our young athletes know about the history of Bermuda in Carifta, that as small as Bermuda is we have been a powerhouse,” she said.
“I don’t want them to think of us as a small country up against these big countries. That doesn’t matter; it’s about your talent, your heart and giving your best.
“This [camp] was about encouraging them and my hope is that it hits home. Even if it is with just one or two of them, then it will be a success for us.
“I watched all of them compete in interschool sports and was so impressed. They just have to go out there and believe in themselves and don’t get stage fright.
“A few of them are definite medal possibilities, but it is the first Carifta for some of them, so you never know. Some of these former athletes they listened to are their coaches and they probably didn’t even know that coach Norbert Simons was on a gold-medal winning team, so it is nice for the team to see. Now they are putting faces to the names.”
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