The Barbados Athlete’s journey to the Olympics must not be taken lightly.
Our young people like all other athletes from around the world have dreams of being on the Olympic podium but it is not just about speed or the ability to jump high or play the best game. There is a whole lot more that is often not seen and talked about.
Ask most athletes and you would hear words like sacrifices, discipline and prioritising.
Take a young swimmer like Alex Sobers who at 17-years old is one of the youngest Olympians at the Rio games, and he will tell you that he has given up so much to train, travel and compete while balancing his studies at the Foundation School.
Getting Our Youth To The Olympics
Unlike the average teenager, Saturday mornings cannot mean sleeping in late and Saturday nights cannot be about the coolest fete. Almost every day, Alex and other aspiring top swimmers are at the pool from as early as 5.30am most morning, after school and on weekends. He needs his energy and so he must find the time to sleep and his nutrition must also take planning.
So for him it is prioritising when he can have some fun with his friends who would not understand his schedule which must be managed with care as he is also expected to study for his school exams. There is no room for excuses, no time for slacking, every minute of the day is precious time and must be used purposefully.
Then there is the big area of finance. Unfortunately, most of our swimmers like Alex have to foot their travel expenses to compete regionally and that coupled with the cost of very expensive swimming gear also calls for some sacrifices, but not just from him but also from his involved parents who are called upon to invest in their son.
I am sure the journey is the same for all athletes and their families and it is no wonder that few athletes manage to stay in sports like swimming as the cost can rule out the talent. This is also true for those that struggle with financial issues to get overseas exposure or just to eat well and put in the needed training.
This is where I would like to see the government and corporate Barbados, come together to rescue talented youth and help them to become Olympians. There should be sponsored coaching sessions, paid travel with gear provided for athletes who qualify for this help as much as a year before top level games.
Coaching/coaches is a high skilled job and coaches need to be paid if they are to work to bring athletes to reach their potential and while many parents might not be able to afford such, it is sad to see that talent is denied the opportunity to explode simply because of a financial issue.
Obadele Thompson our only bronze medallist in track at the Olympics and swimmer Leah Martindale who competed for the island in the 1996 and 2000 Olympics and became the first black female to reach an Olympic swimming final in the 50 m freestyle, are great examples to show that parental involvement is playing a large role in getting young athletes competiting at the highest level.
The struggles of Ryan Brathwaite, Shane Brathwaite and several others should also raise eye brows and force authorities to get programs in place to ensure that our young talents can reach their full potential.
To our 2016 Olympians, we salute you and your parents and our best wishes are with you always.