From tragedy to triumph - Champion jumper turns heartache into motivation
When long jumper Ramone Bailey jumped his personal best of 8.16m, becoming the new national champion, at the Jamaica Athletics Administrative Associations Puma National Senior Championships, held recently at the National Stadium, it made national headlines, throwing Bailey into the spotlight. But, how many of you know the inspiring story behind this talented long jumper?
Born in Kingston, and raised by his grandmother, Bailey recalled days running around with other children of Whitehall Avenue, having big dreams of one day becoming a football star for Manchester United. After unsuccessful attempts at making it in football, he decided to jump right into another sport, shifting his focus to tackle both long and high jump. “Growing up, my family was always supportive of sports. I think they would have all preferred if I had stuck to the sprints, but sometimes you just know when something isn't entirely for you,” he told Outlook.
The summer of 2007, however, brought a life-changing event to Bailey's life. On break from school, it was typical of Bailey to spend time with his best friend’s family in the country. But this time around, tragedy decided to creep in and rear it’s ugly head, striking it’s lethal blow not once, but twice. The first unfortunate incident came when his best friend’s grandmother passed away. Her passing affected the aspiring athlete badly, especially because, he explained, she had taken him in and treated him like family. Her funeral, scheduled for the third weekend of August had to be postponed because of the passing of Hurricane Dean. “My best friend’s mother decided that it would best that I return home to secure the house for my grandmother, who was home alone, so I left for Kingston,” he said.
The catastrophic event which occurred on the night of August 22 hit even harder. With no electricity, due to the passing of the hurricane, Bailey found himself locked in his room with a burning candle. He fell asleep, then later awoke to raging flames.
Bailey sprung into action quickly, ensuring first that he took his grandmother out of the house, before making his escape by jumping through his window. By the time he worked his way to the front of the house, he heard from concerned neighbours that his grandmother had gone back into the house to retrieve important documents. In a panic, he, along with others, ran right into the fire to rescue her, but the impact from explosion of a gas cylinder forced him back. A fire truck came, but it was too late.
The frantic teenager ran the streets, shouting in terror, trying to come to grips with the reality that his grandmother had passed away in such a terrible way. A neighbour informed the family of the tragedy, and in minutes, his best friend's mother arrived on the scene to take him with her.
With no clothes, no money and no immediate family around him, a heartbroken Bailey had to start all over. He went back to the country and spent time with the people he now calls his second family. “I can't even find words to describe how grateful I am to this day for them for taking me in as one of their own during this time. They have always been family to me and they gave me the support I needed from the incident up to this day. I know for sure I wouldn't have got through it without them and I want to send a big thank you to them for being there for me and encouraging me to be strong. I will always appreciate them no matter what I do, or where I am. God blessed their hearts and I am fortunate to have them in my life,” he shared.
After attending two funerals that summer, Bailey settled into a new life, living with his mother who is a returned resident. He explained that it was very difficult in the beginning because he wasn't used to having so many rules while living with his grandmother, “My mother was also going through a rough time, not just with the death, but with not having seen her own mother for almost eight years before that. So, I think she needed me more than I needed her.” The two became each other's support system from then on.
In September, Bailey decided to take a leap of faith and make fourth form at Wolmer’s High School his breakout year. Competing in long jump at the ISSA/GraceKennedy Boys and Girls’ Championships was no easy feat but he executed his jumps in style, setting the bar high for others to follow in his footsteps, “I was broken for a while, but I knew doing my best and excelling in track and field would help me to be the best I could be.” His success earned him a track and field scholarship to the Texas Christian University (TCU) in the United States.
“My college experience was great. I loved it. I worked very hard in training over the years and even harder in school to pull that off. From all the nights of getting home late, to all the nights of staying up late, I did what I had to, and I'm proud to have received my degree in business communication,” he said. He also walked away with an incredible training experience, asserting that the coaches there were more technical about every aspect of the jump, from the very first step to the very first part of your body hitting the sand.
Bailey admitted, however, that he didn't really feel like he fit in, suffering from homesickness throughout. This negatively affected him on and off the track, which was the main reason for his decision to move back home.
Since his return, Bailey finished first at the last Gibson Relays, jumping a wind-aided 7.95m (7.55m legally). Additionally, he finished first with a distance of 7.62m at the UTech Classic, before placing first at the senior trials, “I wasn't really necessarily focusing on winning, but more so qualifying for the World Championship. The win just came as an added bonus,” he said.
With high hopes of doing well at the World Championships, his advice to aspiring athletes is to remember that hard work is the key to success. Sharing tips like, train smart, diet properly and get enough rest, he also encouraged those interested in the field to figure out what works best for them and combine everything that they’ve learnt with passion.
Now that he is on a path to greatness, his only regret is that his grandmother isn't here to share in the moments with him. “My grandmother meant everything to me and she still means the world to me. It's unfortunate she isn't here to see all the good I've been doing, but I know she would be very proud of me, so I'll continue to do all I think she would be happy to see."