‘She inspires us. Flora showed anything a boy can do, a girl can do – and better’
It was a tumultuous scene – hundreds of euphoric students cheering their hero Flora Duffy as her motorcade wound through their school grounds.
As part of her welcome back to Bermuda tour, Flora visited her old school, Warwick Academy, and for some young students cheering their hero, the visit was especially meaningful.
Triathletes Tatiana Sousa, Naina Seth and Amaris Munya, aged 12, 13 and 11, described the burst of pride at Flora’s achievement as a Bermudian woman.
Tatiana, who became an athlete when she was six and is now in the Sharks swimming club, said: “I feel like she proved everyone wrong, that a Bermudian could really win.”
She attended Port Royal Primary School where Flora also went and felt she was following in her footsteps. “It’s inspiring. She’s an amazing person.”
Tatiana said watching Flora’s resilience and pace in the running at Tokyo made her “wish I could run like that”.
“Now I feel like if I follow her, I could get somewhere near where she is.”
Naina, who is a member of the Harbour swimming club, said women could be undermined as athletes, but Flora had shown the scale of what they could accomplish.
“I feel really impressed that she stayed with Bermuda. She wanted to be true to her country.”
She said her school house, Patton, had been Flora’s. “It’s really cool that we have someone like that to look up to.”
Naina said she and her family had been “screaming” watching Flora’s win.
“If she can prove people wrong about Bermuda, why can’t I? People didn’t think she could win, but she has shown them all.”
Amaris, who does triathlon sports, runs for the Pacers and plays football for PHC, recalled her whole family erupting with joy as they watched Flora win gold.
“She inspires us,” Amaris said. “Flora showed anything a boy can do, a girl can do – and better.”
Amaris, who once met the star athlete at a Front Street duathlon, praised Flora’s resilience in coming through sporting setbacks undaunted.
“When she won, I started crying. They were happy tears.” The family drove into Hamilton, honking their car horn.
Callum MacFarlane, 14, got into triathlon athletics by doing “one of the Iron Kids triathlons when I was 7 or 8”.
He is the proud owner of a Flora Duffy autograph from when the champion visited a training session.
“It was pretty amazing to think Bermuda has an Olympian like that – especially to be the best in the world.”
Ayshalay Simons, 13, was inspired by her sisters Amber and Aaliyah to start triathlon sports.
The exertion can be “really tiring”, she said. “You just have to keep on thinking of the finish line.”
Ayshalay, who keeps Flora’s signature on a water bottle, said she watched the gold medal win on TV, cheering and shouting. “It’s really inspiring,” she said.
Marleigh Howes, 13, started triathlon athletics when she was five and now focuses on swimming.
She has qualified for the Carifta Games.
Marleigh was the lone Bermudian at camp in Canada, where Flora’s win made her a minor celebrity. “Everyone there was chanting our national anthem.”
Her mother, Coralee Starzomski, is an Ironman triathlete who inspired Marleigh.
Flora was another inspiration. “She had gone to so many Olympics, but never won,” she said.
Mark Thorne was head of physical education at the school when Flora attended.
Mr Thorne watched Flora’s win alongside Troy Custodio, who coached her at Port Royal.
“We couldn’t be more proud. I have to believe she is a hero. Bermuda loves her.”
Mr Thorne, who also coached Flora’s brother, Joel, said knowing the family made welcoming her motorcade all the more special.
“It’s fabulous, and I know the children look up to her. They all know who she is.”
The school resounded with cheering and a confetti cannon greeted the motorcade.
Spectators with flags lined Middle Road outside. Among them was Beverley Sealey, whose grandson competes in track and field.
Steve Burgess, one of Flora’s coaches, is one of her relatives.
Ms Sealey said: “I’m hoping to get a nice picture of her. It’s history. We’re not going to see another thing like this.”