Race against time - Cunningham rushes to convert for CAC Games
SHECKEMA CUNNINGHAM, Jamaica's lone karate representative at the Central American and Caribbean Games (CAC) in Barranquilla, Colombia, is desperately undergoing a third conversion of fighting styles in time to make the July 25-27 competition.
Cunningham was handed a late wild-card invitation by the Jamaica Olympic Association. It was first thought that the available spot was for a male, which had triggered preparations for Olympian Kenneth Edwards' participation.
Despite rushed preparations for Cunningham to convert to World Karate Federation style of sparring, the much-decorated 33-year-old fighter said, with a week to go, she has been trying her best to cope with a difference of "night to day", compared with her current style of kickboxing.
"It came up suddenly and I was told my country needed me, so I agreed to try. I'm giving it my all," she told The Gleaner between bouts of intense training.
Cunningham was originally a karate point fighter, and converted to tae kwon do in 2011 by female combined martial arts team coach, Jason McKay, who spotted her potential to medal on the world stage.
Cunningham delivered that same year, creating history, along with Alrick Wanliss, as the first Jamaicans to medal in sparring at an International Taekwon-Do Federation World Championship, both winning bronze medals. Pushing the boundary further, Cunningham underwent another conversion in 2015, winning gold as a kickboxer at the German Open and double gold at the International Sports Karate and Kickboxing Association Amateur Members Association's World Championship in Greece 2017.
Cunningham must place in the first two in her division in Colombia, gold or silver, to be an automatic qualifier for the 2019 Pan Am Games in Lima, Peru, the final stop for Olympic qualifying to make Tokyo 2020.
Coach McKay said the CAC Games will be a major effort, which would have been easier had Cunningham been given more time to handle the conversion.
"She has skills and experience as a fighter but time is what she doesn't have, with the CAC games schedule allowing for a one-month preparation," said McKay.
"However, all will be done that is possible. She is a great athlete and this is what great athletes are forced to do sometimes - the impossible," he added.