Dalton Myers | Alia Atkinson - Well-deserved national award
Every year, the list of persons to be given national awards is made known on August 6, our Independence Day. The awardees then receive their instruments on National Heroes' Day in October. Every single year, I usually review some names with the greatest of confusion while smiling when I see others. This year, one name that has emerged that made me smile from ear to ear is our darling of the pool: Jamaican, Olympian, world record holder and World Champion Alia Atkinson.
Alia is the consummate professional and a hard-working athlete who strives for excellence and progress in the pool as well as outside of` the water. She has been awarded the Order of Distinction (the country's fifth highest honour) "for outstanding representation of Jamaica in the field of Swimming and being the First Black Woman to win a World Championships Title". I am extremely happy that she is getting all the credit and acknowledgement she richly deserves.
Since making her Olympic debut in Athens as a 15-year-old in 2004, Alia has racked up many regional and international awards and medals, including becoming the first woman of colour to win a swim title at a major championship when she won the 100m breaststroke at the 2014 World Short Course Championships in Doha, Qatar. She has competed in four Commonwealth Games, four Olympic Games, and many other major regional and global events including Grand Prix, World Championships, and CAC Games. Just this year, she narrowly missed out on a gold medal at the Commonwealth Games, but returned to demolish her competitors at the Central American and Caribbean (CAC) Games breaking several personal and meet records. She is by far the most dominant Jamaican swimmer of our time and greatest swimmer of colour.
No ordinary swimmer
Alia is no ordinary swimmer. Like most athletes, she has not dived into any sport, political controversies, but earlier this year she had to skirt controversy when she publicly expressed her disappointment at being the only Jamaican swimmer selected for the 2018 Commonwealth Games.
That frustration propelled her to work harder on her Watabound Project - a platform to promote persons of colour in the pool. Swimming at the highest level does not have many of persons of colour, and Alia is using her skills and the respect she commands to push Watabound, including an emphasis on swimmers of colour who are doing a great job but not getting the recognition they deserve.
She is a role model and has found time to give back to the country even while still competing. Last year, she returned home to conduct the AA Swim Clinic. The Clinic focused primarily on important basic swimming techniques as well as other key components of being a good swimmer such as gear, dry land training, nutrition, and motivation. She has a very good management team; and with her mother, Sharon Atkinson, and the other persons behind the scenes, she has managed to become one of the greats of the pool.
While one of Alia's main hobbies is writing children's short stories, it was evident that she also enjoys training and interacting with young swimmers. It's also clear that despite the challenges she has faced along the way, she still believes in contributing to Jamaica. She has remained committed and patriotic despite of not always getting the support she quietly asks for. I am sure her constant requests would have helped nudge the powers that be to send more swimmers to the just-concluded CAC Games where Alia was both captain of the swim team and co-captain of the Jamaican contingent. She was also the flag-bearer for Team Jamaica at the 2018 Commonwealth Games.
My hope is that she will realise her dream of seeing a more "colourful" pool over the next few years. Tackling issues related to sports, race, and identity while actively competing is never easy, so kudos to her. She will be 31 years old when Tokyo 2020 comes around, and I can only imagine it might be her final Olympics, thus making it to the Magic 5. What a journey it would be! So while I am usually in two minds about the national awards, this one is well deserved.
- Dalton Myers is a sports consultant and administrator. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.