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Two shining stars heading higher
Hold tight. The action isn’t over yet. If you’re missing all the excitement and glory of the Olympics and have the post-Olympic blues, cheer up. The Paralympics are just around the corner, from August 29 to September 9, and believe me, we have two shining stars who will honourably represent this country.
For the first time since 1984, T&T will be sending two representatives to the Paralympics, and we’re coming back with the two awesome athletes. We couldn’t have asked for two better competitors than swimmer Shanntol Ince and shot put and discus-thrower Carlos Green to represent us.
They are unbelievable athletes who are truly an inspiration. Their determination and diligence, competitive spirit and patriotism have propelled them to the top of their sports, and they have accomplished amazing feats with what most of us would categorise as unspeakable challenges. When describing themselves and what kind of people they are, both Carlos and Shanntol first mention “patriotic.”
“I’m the type of person who stands up even if I’m alone in my home when I hear the national anthem,” says Carlos when I interviewed him last month. “I’m proud to walk through an airport wearing the red, white and black.” In London, blind, powerlifting champion Carlos Green, 43, will compete in the shot put and discus. Seventeen-year-old Shanntol, who competes with one significantly shorter leg, will be swimming the 100-metre butterfly, 100-metre backstroke and 400-metre freestyle. Both athletes, sponsored by British Petroleum T&T (bpTT), will compete in the Paralympics for the first time.
Every morning from 6.30 to 9.30, Carlos has left his home in Waterloo for training at the National Stadium with his coach, Lester Osuna. They are more than a coach and an athlete: They are a team with mutual admiration for each other. They believe in each other and they demonstrate the ideal coach/athlete relationship.
When Carlos lost his sight quite suddenly and unexpectedly to glaucoma in 2000, he rallied to turn what would seem to most of us as a devastating blow into a competitive challenge. He began with powerlifting and then, deciding he needed a new, exciting challenge, he decided to take up discus throwing and shot put. Carlos remembers but does not dwell on his journey from a sighted man to a blind man. “I knew people who had gone blind and didn’t make it,” he said. “Their families fell apart or they didn’t live.”
Not Carlos. With the support of his family, he decided to tackle the weight he gained after adjusting to his new life. He began to lift weights in the gym, and he began to win medals in international power-lifting events. He broke 11 world records at the World Blind Powerlifting Championships in 2008. In 2009, he broke seven of his own world records from the year before. It’s impossible not to feel motivated by Carlos’ enthusiasm.
When he wanted a new challenge in field events, he relentlessly pursued coach Osuna to be his coach. Osuna has never regretted the decision to teach Carlos how to throw the discus and shot put. The challenges have been great for Coach Osuna as well as he finds a way to translate visual skills into tactile ones for his blind athlete.
Shanntol has had her own challenges as well. The Gasparillo Secondary student is a stark contrast to Carlos with her quiet determination. It’s difficult to imagine a teenager with as much confidence and motivation as Shanntol. In that sense, she is in the same rare league as Keshorn Walcott.
Everyone who knows Shanntol says that her determination and ability to focus are what they admire most about her. She blocks out everything and everyone around her to pour all her energy into her gruelling schedule of weight training and swimming. Like Carlos, she travels from south every day to train. Besides school, her day includes two hours of training in the gym with Colin Sebright and two hours of swimming with coach Franz Huggins at Marlins.
“She is willing to work hard and she never complains,” says Huggins. “There is no difference between her and any other athlete I coach,” both Shanntol’s coaches say. Shanntol’s coaches say she never complains. No amount of training is too much or too difficult for Shanntol. Her faith in God and her faith in hard work are extraordinary.
She too focuses on everything positive. Shanntol has never dwelled on the mean or negative comments, the cruel stares or inconsiderate remarks that people made while she was growing up. Buoyed by the unconditional love and valiant support of her parents, Shanntol knows how special she is. She exudes confidence. Shanntol and Carlos are elite athletes whose resilience prepares them for the most difficult challenges you can imagine in sports.
As Shanntol and Carlos head off for the Paralympics, I hope they know just how proud we are that they are representing us in the Paralympics. You make us proud to be citizens of T&T, Shanntol and Carlos. We’re behind you all the way. We know you’ll represent us admirably well. You’re the best.
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