Sun | Oct 21, 2018

Double treat - Jennica and Shelly-Ann

Published:Sunday | August 31, 2014 | 12:00 AM
Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce (left) meets student athlete Jennica Sterling for the first time.
Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce (left) and Jennica Sterling reminding the world that they are both first-place finishers.
Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce (centre) carrying the Queen's Baton through her Waterhouse community in the lead-up to the Commonwealth Games.-Contributed photos

A sports star and a student athlete unite for children

Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce steps lightly, slowing her lightning speed to a hushed tiptoe. She grins broadly, waiting for her cue to enter a room where 12-year-old Jennica Sterling sits, unaware that she is about to have a 'pryceless' surprise.

One month ago, Shelly-Ann and Jennica both represented Jamaica at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, Scotland. Millions of viewers the world over watched as the fastest woman in the world carried the ceremonial flag for the region into the stadium at the opening ceremony.

And then a far less-known Jamaican appeared on screen. Young Jennica, with pictures of her primary school in St Elizabeth in the backdrop, told a global audience why it is so important to educate children and give them equal opportunities to thrive.

Later in the ceremony, Jennica was back - but this time live, in person - carrying the Queen's Baton into the stadium on its final leg. It was the same baton that Shelly-Ann had carried through her Waterhouse community when the Queen's Baton Relay - traversing Commonwealth countries in the lead-up to the Games - came to Jamaica in May.

Shelly-Ann and Jennica had far more than a baton in common. Together, they helped United Nation Children's Fund (UNICEF), in an unprecedented partnership with the Common-wealth Games Federation, to raise more than £5 million for children across the Common-wealth through a months-long 'Put Children First' fundraising appeal that culminated at the Games.

life-changing programmes

Almost half of the money was raised during the opening ceremony of the Commonwealth Games, when viewers were introduced to life-changing UNICEF-supported programmes in Commonwealth countries and invited to text in a donation.

Programmes like EduSport in Jamaica, run by the BREDS Treasure Beach Foundation, which has given Jennica and more than 1,200 other children in rural schools a chance to learn structured sports while gaining important life skills.

Today, having only seen each other on stadium monitors in Glasgow, Jennica has no idea she is about to meet her long-time idol, who has served as UNICEF Jamaica's Goodwill Ambassador for the last five years.

The door opens, and Jennica is speechless. For a child with a passion for running and who has fulfilled her dream of going to Wolmer's High School, this moment is surreal. Shelly-Ann flashes her signature smile, wraps Jennica in a warm hug and the encounter becomes very real as they reflect on their 'Put Children First' experiences.

"When I was 12, I was home chilling and relaxing," says Shelly-Ann. "You went all the way to Glasgow, representing not just Jamaica, but all the children of the Commonwealth. You are the real celebrity here!" she exclaims, as Jennica buries her face in a round of giggles.

Jennica looks back with incredulity and pride. "It all started when my principal told me that UNICEF was coming to make a film about EduSport. I was excited to be in it. Next thing after that I heard that the people in Glasgow who run the Games saw the film, fell in love with me, and wanted me to come to carry the baton!"

When Jennica left Jamaica for Glasgow, it was her very first time leaving the island. "I thought I would be nervous, but I was not," she says confidently. "It was amazing ... it was awesome to have this once-in-a-lifetime experience."

The shock of meeting Shelly-Ann has worn off, and Jennica realises that she has been an inspiration not only to millions of people outside of Jamaica, but to her hero.

"We have done something together that will help a lot of children to get an education, to get vaccines, to get food," says Shelly-Ann. "In life, we must always be part of something that is bigger than ourselves. And we must always put our children first."