Making her mark in a man's world
Dania Bogle, Gleaner Writer
Track and field coaching in Jamaica is still very much a boys' club but Convent of Mercy Academy's (Alpha) coach, Lorna Vernon, has been able to penetrate the walls and has achieved a measure of success in her 22 years in the field.
Vernon is one of three honourees for this year's Wesley Powell Heart Institute of the Caribbean Invitational Track and Field meet at Excelsior High today.
Hailing from a long-established sporting family, which included her father, former Kingston College track coach and athlete, Oswald (Ossie) Vernon and uncles, Patrick and Michael Vernon, getting involved in sports seemed a natural fit.
Oswald Vernon was one of Kingston College's coaches when the school won the Boy's Championship title a record 15 years in a row, while the other Vernon brothers also competed in track and field, cricket and football.
"I grew up in an athletic-minded, sports-minded family and of course anybody who knows my father's personality knows if I can stand up to my father I can stand up to any man. All the persons in my family were encouraged to be high achievers," Vernon told The Gleaner at the launch of the meet at the Excelsior High School on Wednesday, December 3.
Vernon began her foray into coaching during a one year teaching stint at Kingston College. She later moved to Alpha as an assistant coach in 1992 before becoming the head coach later.
Among her success stories have been national standout and former national junior high jump record holder, Peaches Roach, and Pan American Junior Championships medallists, Rosemarie Carty and Shermaine Williams.
Williams also claimed a silver medal in the sprint hurdles at the 2008 World Junior Championships in Bydgoszcz, Poland, but Vernon was quick to point out that the athlete was already under the direction of Lennox Graham at Johnson C. Smith University by then.
Roach was also Vernon's first success story at the annual Boys and Girls' Championships.
"In my coaching, I do what I need to do as long as it's above board to achieve, or have my girls achieve," she said.
A trained mathematics teacher, Vernon is also mother of Alpha student-athlete, Zinedine Russell, who, at 14-years old, earned grade ones with straight 'A' profiles in both mathematics units of the recent CAPE examinations. She previously also passed 10 CSEC subjects with grade ones and also passed an 11th, geography.
The IAAF Level Two certified coach, who is also Level One coach instructor, admits that it is much more difficult to coach girls.
"The emotions are stronger. Every time I get a successful athlete it encourages me more because it is harder to coach girls," she said.
She recalls late former North America, Central America, and Caribbean Area Association president, Teddy McCook, and instructor, Lenford Levy, as mentors who pushed her to keep going even at the tough times.
"There are times when just stepping out of my zone I think I have been marginalised as a coach but persons who were my mentors stood up for certain things. Being a coach has been tough but I have stood the wear and tear."