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RJRGLEANER Honour Awards for Sports - Alia Atkinson: Never afraid to pave a way on her own

Published:Saturday | January 12, 2019 | 12:00 AMSyranno Baines/Gleaner Writer
Alia Atkinson

The titles that roll off the tongues and resonate across the globe may be world-record holder, national awardee, or first black woman to win a world swimming crown.

But when renowned Jamaican swimmer Alia Atkinson calls time on her remarkable career, she wants to be remembered most as "the little girl who fought" tirelessly to achieve her goals while serving as an inspiration for those with dreams in other 'not-so-traditional' sports.

"My career has embodied a fighter because never in one moment has it been an easy ride - mentally, physically or financially," related Atkinson, who will now add the 2018 RJRGLEANER Honour Award in the category of Sports to her impressive rÈsumÈ.

Atkinson was selected for keeping the Jamaican brand consistent in international swimming and also for her exploits at the Central American and Caribbean (CAC) Games in 2018, where she earned five medals, including three gold. She also won a silver medal in the 50m breaststroke at the 2018 Commonwealth Games on Australia's Gold Coast.

 

AT HOME IN WATER

 

Alia's success in the pool, however, didn't come overnight as her love affair with swimming began at The Queen's School at the tender age of four.

The mindset of her parents back then was just for her to acquire the fundamental skills of the activity for any eventuality in the water.

But, by her own admission, Atkinson always felt more comfortable in water than on land and began to train for the sport at age seven and began competing at nine years old.

What followed is history - four Commonwealth Games; four Olympic Games; and many other major regional and global events, including Grand Prix, World Championships, and the CAC Games - even though she didn't fancy herself a prodigy in the pool.

"My legacy is not just about being a household name or

for everybody to remember 'swimming' and have it synonymous with 'Alia Atkinson'. I want my legacy to be something in which you can say, 'Alia Atkinson equals somebody who had fought, tried, never given up, and someone who was not afraid to go out there on her own and pave a way'," Atkinson reasoned.

"I want parents to look at their kids and not put a limitation on them. I want parents not to say, 'Well, nobody has succeeded in this sport, so we'll put them in a different sport'. I want persons in the little silent sports - those silent heroes - to know that they can be successful outside of the standard or traditional track and field, football or cricket," she added.

Since making her Olympic debut in Athens as a 15-year-old in 2004, Atkinson has racked up several regional and international accolades, including becoming the first woman of colour to win a swim title at a major championship when she won the short-course 100m breaststroke at the 2014 Short Course World Championships in Doha, Qatar, tying the world record in the process.

This she regards as her highest moment in the sport and a feat made more special by the disappointment which preceded it a few months earlier.

 

RISING FROM DISAPPOINTMENT

 

Atkinson, the former Texas A&M University standout, swam the 50m breaststroke Commonwealth Games record of 30.17 in the preliminaries at those Games in Glasgow, Scotland, then finished second in the final.

It was a hard pill to swallow for Atkinson, who eventually shrugged off the disappointment as a valuable lesson through the intervention and support of her parents, coach and fans.

"It just shows that you can accept the fact that this is your lowest point and have it defeat you, or you can get back up and say, 'No, I will surpass you', and if you do that, there's usually greater in store," she reasoned.

Almost two years later, Atkinson would again tie the world record in the short-course 100m breaststroke on the opening day of the 2016 FINA World Cup in Chartres, France.

It has been some journey, and the 30-year-old reckons she still has a lot more to give in the sport.

"Physically, you can push your body to do whatever you want it to do. The hardest part is mental," she related.

"For me, the majority of it is 'What else do I feel like I can accomplish in the sport, and what other goals [do] I have in the sport?' and those are the things that will mentally push me through and help me to continue. So, yes, I have a couple more competitions in me," she said.

 

GREAT HONOUR

 

As it relates to this, her latest recognition, Atkinson described it as an honour to be selected for an Honour Award by a company which has tracked and documented her development in the sport she loves.

"It's always great to be recognised for the sport that you do, and having different accolades all over Jamaica is good, but an accolade from The Gleaner is just a little bit more," she expressed.

The proud Jamaican, who contends that the support for local swimming and swimmers is not where she would want it to be in 2019, has hinted at intentions to play a key role in improving this for the upcoming generation after her retirement.

But while she is keen to see young local talent flourish in a sport she has made her own, youth development on a national scale is also Atkinson's vision for her country.

"My vision is for more worthwhile employment and more educational opportunities for our youth," expressed Atkinson.

"Also, having some sort of system which will allow our young talents to stay in Jamaica so they don't have to go abroad, having the First World equipment and qualities so that our children don't have a need to leave and can have a future in Jamaica," she added.

syranno.baines@gleanerjm.com