ATHLETE WELFARE & PREPARATION FUND

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“To be hon­est, I still don’t have the emo­tion that every­one would ex­pect. I guess this is just me not get­ting car­ried away and try­ing to stay fo­cused and just work­ing to­wards com­pet­ing next year.”

That was Te­niel Camp­bell’s re­sponse mere days af­ter of­fi­cial­ly qual­i­fy­ing for the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo, Japan. Her head is still on her shoul­ders and her feet on the ground as op­posed to be­ing on cloud nine.

She sat down for an in­ter­view with the Sun­day Guardian at her man­ag­er Desmond Roberts’ St Au­gus­tine home last week.

Iron­i­cal­ly, it was the same place where her jour­ney to the Olympics be­gan al­most two years to the day. She re­called how they stayed up past 1 am the night be­fore they trav­elled ser­vic­ing her bike in the small gym be­hind Roberts’ house. That she would qual­i­fy for an Olympic Games two years lat­er was a shad­ow of a thought then.

How­ev­er, Mar­tinique ped­alled off the process. At the Elite Women’s Caribbean Road Cy­cling Cham­pi­onships, she won dou­ble gold in the in­di­vid­ual time tri­al and women’s road race.

“That was just my gold­en op­por­tu­ni­ty,” she re­called.

In­deed it was be­cause four months lat­er, in Feb­ru­ary 2018, Camp­bell was se­lect­ed for a high-lev­el train­ing camp at the In­ter­na­tion­al Cy­cling Union’s (UCI) World Cy­cling Cen­tre (WCC) in Switzer­land.

Now just 22 years, she’s be­come the first-ever fe­male cy­clist from the Eng­lish-speak­ing Caribbean to have qual­i­fied for an Olympics. She ad­mits the suc­cess in such a short pe­ri­od is hard to fath­om.

“It was just two years ago this jour­ney start­ed so it’s a re­al­ly short space of time to ac­com­plish this. I guess this shows how ded­i­cat­ed I am to my craft and that once I put my mind to some­thing I’m just that com­mit­ted and I’m go­ing to go af­ter it and achieve it,” she told the Sun­day Guardian.

Hav­ing com­plet­ed her stint at the WCC, she’ll ride right in­to Ital­ian club Val­car Cy­lance’s unit as the team’s first-ever in­ter­na­tion­al sign­ing. They’re a pro­fes­sion­al women’s cy­cling club found­ed two years ago.

“I know it’s go­ing to be com­plete­ly dif­fer­ent,” the road cy­clist said as she pre­pares for her switch and ex­po­sure to a new cul­ture and way of do­ing things. She said she ex­pects life in Italy at her new club will be vast­ly dif­fer­ent from that of Switzer­land.

“At the UCI Cen­tre they take care of you. They pre­pare the meals and every­thing. We all stay to­geth­er in a house. With this new Ital­ian team, I have to cook for my­self...” Camp­bell joked.

She added: “It’s go­ing to be com­plete­ly dif­fer­ent and a brand new lifestyle for me but I’m look­ing for­ward to it.”

The in­ter­na­tion­al rep­u­ta­tion she’s cre­at­ed for her­self has al­ready cre­at­ed some ear­ly hype in Italy.

She ex­plained: “From what I’ve heard they’re talk­ing about me a lot across there, so it’s just ex­cite­ment from both sides and I’m look­ing for­ward to work­ing to­geth­er and see­ing how much suc­cess we can get next year as a unit and how well we mesh to­geth­er as a team.”

But Camp­bell is very cau­tious in how she at­trib­ut­es her suc­cess.

“This is not a one-man show,” she made clear dur­ing the in­ter­view.

It is as much an ac­com­plish­ment for man­ag­er Roberts as it is for her.

“He be­lieved in me when no one else did and he took the ini­tia­tives to dig in his own pock­et if he had to fund some­thing for me and that was re­al­ly gen­uine and nice to ac­tu­al­ly meet that type of per­son at such a young age in my sport­ing ca­reer,” she said of him.

Roberts was part of a small, core group that kept Camp­bell on course to her goal, men­tal­ly and phys­i­cal­ly.

Told that there were head­lines now but that there may have been a time when peo­ple didn’t be­lieve she could achieve any­thing in cy­cling, Camp­bell’s de­meanour in the in­ter­view changed.

She be­gan look­ing away to hide a drop of tear run­ning down the right side of her cheek. One drop turned to two and then her eyes filled with wa­ter.

“It’s kind of fun­ny be­cause now it’s the same peo­ple com­ing to try to talk to me or get on to me. That’s a scary feel­ing for me be­cause you don’t know who is com­ing to you gen­uine right now,” she said, push­ing up the glass­es on her fore­head to wipe her now tear­ful eyes.

“Know­ing the things that I went through to get to where I am to­day, I know it brings a lot of tears to my fam­i­ly’s eyes and every­one who sup­port­ed me. When I wasn’t any­thing, they saw some­thing... from the be­gin­ning so I hope to make every­one proud,” she said with a loud sigh.

One of the peo­ple very proud of her is her moth­er Eu­phemia Hug­gins, the 1989 Sports­woman of the Year who played bas­ket­ball and net­ball for Trinidad and To­ba­go.

“She’s re­al­ly hap­py, be­ing an ath­lete her­self, this be­ing the on­ly games she nev­er qual­i­fied for, so I hope that she will be there with me in Tokyo and can live that dream through her daugh­ter.”

Her broth­er Ak­il Camp­bell, who is al­so a na­tion­al cy­clist, is part of “the core sup­port” Camp­bell wants with her in Tokyo.

This is a jour­ney that could have eas­i­ly been de­railed had it not been for Camp­bell’s de­ter­mi­na­tion and brav­ery. She re­flect­ed on how her re­turn to cy­cling in form five raised se­ri­ous con­cerns from her teach­ers.

“I re­mem­ber lead­ing up to CXC, I had just got­ten back in­to cy­cling and I was do­ing sci­ences and some teach­ers were like ‘what are you do­ing?’ I knew I could jug­gle the both and I passed all eight sub­jects with ones and twos and then I went on to do CAPE. I still kept do­ing cy­cling and kept im­prov­ing in the sport,” she re­called.

Now as she adapts to the ever-chang­ing life abroad in the var­i­ous cities she vis­its, that ex­pe­ri­ence in school taught her a valu­able les­son.

“I think for me, be­ing in school and still be­ing able to do good in sport is good at a young age be­cause it teach­es you a lot of re­spon­si­bil­i­ties be­cause if you ask all my teach­ers, I was nev­er re­al­ly one to sleep in class,” she said as she gig­gled.

For Camp­bell, it’s a com­plete­ly new ex­pe­ri­ence now. Every­one wants part of her, even those who didn’t want to fund her when it seemed she wasn’t des­tined for much.

“I know it (spon­sor­ship) didn’t start at the ear­ly stages and it’s now com­ing but it’s not some­thing that I re­al­ly try to take on cause it’s not good as an ath­lete. Your fo­cus is just sup­posed to be on train­ing and us­ing the tools you have to con­tin­ue de­vel­op­ing and when the time is right, every­thing will just start falling in­to place,” she said.

 

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