The heptathlon is a demanding seven-discipline event that consists of 100 metres hurdles, high jump, shot put, 200m, long jump, javelin and 800m and it is not for the faint of heart.
At the recently concluded the Cayman Islands' Carifta Games, Safiya John bested a field of 10 to win gold and bettering her second place finish the year before in the Bahamas. John finished 296 points ahead of teammate silver medallist Antonia Sealy with 5,143 points.
Apart from a stumble in the long jump, after which she found herself in second place, John comfortably held the lead otherwise. The denouement of her long jump performance though speaks volumes about her mental strength, maturity and belief in herself.
Faulting after her first two jumps, a third would result in a no score in this event and potentially rendering her uncompetitive in the medal hunt.
"I went over to the coaches and asked what do I need to do here," said John. "I listened and made the suggested adjustment to my run-up for the last jump and of course said a little prayer too. I was very proud that I was able to stay calm and work my way out of this."
She landed a jump of 5.28m, placing third in the long jump and staying in the race for gold.
Hailing from a small village in Tobago, John is the youngest of three children at 18 years old and a freshman at the University of Arkansas, Pine Bluff in the United States, majoring in Biology on an athletic scholarship.
The role of the student-athlete is tough. For John, her day starts at 7 am with weights. Thereafter classes run from 9 am to 2 pm after which she heads out to training for another two and a half hours. Bedtime is at 10 pm but not before another couple hours at study hall.
On the transition to college in the US, John said that the biggest adjustment is to the culture and the absence of her "mom’s home-cooked food". From a close-knit community to a bigger town is a stark difference.
John remembers being good at running from an early age. Noting that she would just show up and run the 3,000m without doing any training. She then joined Zenith Athletic Club and compete in the high jump and long jump as well.
With the encouragement of coach Arlon Morrison John, she expanded her repertoire to include the shot put and javelin and made her foray into the heptathlon.
She’s competed in five Carifta Games and admits that while the results of the first three were mundane, the last two results (silver and now gold) were the outcomes of some "personal goal-setting, hard work and dedication".