From cycling on the streets of San Fernando where she grew up to now sitting in the pelotons of Europe, Teniel Cambell's rise in the sport is both an inspiration and a compass that will direct T&T to take more local athletes like her to the international stage. In an interview this week with Cyclingnews, the 22-year-old rider who now plies her trade in Italy opened up about the state of T&T cycling, race and the mark she wants to leave on the sport.
<Talent but no structure>
It's been two years since Campbell left this country for her first stint at the World Cycling Centre in Aigle, Switzerland. While her professional career hasn't looked back since the road cyclist often worries about how many other talented cyclists like herself aren't making it out of the Caribbean. "We have the talent but not the structure or investment like the other bigger nations in Europe. You wouldn't find parents capable of putting their kids in this sport; they would be quicker to put them in track and field or football. It's less stress on the pockets," she said.
Campbell pointed to her own story as an example of just how difficult it is for even the best of riders to make it to elite status. "I can personally tell you that it wasn't my family alone covering the equipment costs. I was really blessed and probably chosen to live this type of lifestyle. A lot of people helped me and believed in my potential. That is why I am so humbled and grounded because I know what it took to get here – and it was not an easy road," she said.
<Giving back to the Caribbean>
As Campbell's career soars, having qualified for the now rescheduled Tokyo 2020 Olympics, she wants to pull the Caribbean up with her. It's as big as any of her other goals. "Everyone wants to be a world champion, Olympic champion, and win the big Monuments, but apart from all of these things, my major goal is to help develop the sport within my country, the Caribbean region and beyond. I have a series of ongoing ideas, but nothing works if I don't work, so I must continue to stay on top of my game, working and training hard."
To do that, she says, a lot depends her staying at the top of her game. The Valcar cycling club rider continued, "I need to use the resources that I have to aid in the development back home so that they can have something to work with to help create a path for more Caribbean riders. We have a lot of talent in the Caribbean, and in Trinidad and Tobago, but we need exposure, investment, and the belief and confidence that we can be competitive in Europe."
<Race within the race>
Among the European professional ranks, Campbell says that she is one of two Black female cyclists. The other is Dominican-born Dutch pro cyclist Ceylin Carmen del Alvarado who is the cyclo-cross world champion. In a sport that has been tainted by racial issues and which its governing body UCI has come under tremendous criticism for its light-handed approach, Campbell says she has not had that problem. However, her skin colour makes her automatically stand out from the rest of the riders. "There are literally no athletes of colour in the peloton. You can distinguish me from the colour of my skin and my height. I didn't want to be known as that person. I want people to see me for the talent I have, not because of the colour of my skin or because I'm so completely different from everyone else. No, I don't want that. Me – I'm human. I have the talent, and that is what you must know me, see me and respect me for my talent," she said.
<The female Usain Bolt>
As she flies the Caribbean flag across Europe, Campbell wants to emulate a Caribbean sporting legend leaving the sport as heroic a figure as Usain Bolt left track and field. "I want to achieve the unthinkable," Campbell says. "When I retire, I want people to remember me in the same way they remember Usain Bolt – a legend. I haven't met him, but I always imagine myself being the female Usain Bolt of the Caribbean. We are both laidback, fun and chill, but when it comes to the competition? It's go-time, it's showtime." Like Bolt, she wants to back her confidence with performances in the race. "I have all these crazy dreams, thoughts and ideas, and I just want to make them happen," Campbell says. "I don't want just to say it, I want to do it. I don't want to give anyone false hope; I just want to show the others that it can be done. Once you have that mental capacity and determination, you can accomplish anything."
Across the Atlantic, life is a lot different for Campbell than it was for her in T&T. She misses the food and her family cooking. My family can cook so good; I can't cook for anything; I could do with some barbeque and homemade roti. Curry is life. I searched for roti here, but the closest place I could go to get it was in London.
"In Italy, I eat lots of pasta, rice, pizza, and gelato. I'd be lying if I said I don't eat the bad foods. Italian food is very good, though, but if you don't have some self-control, you can overdo it."
It is perhaps just another sacrifice Campbell is making on her sprint to success. (Source: Cyclingnews)