Cunningham's last hurrah - Top female fighter hopes to retire with double gold at home
SHECKEMA Cunningham said the perfect rebound from not being able to compete at the recent Central America and Caribbean Games in Barranquilla, Colombia, would be to successfully defend her International Sport Kickboxing Association (ISKA) double gold at home, next month, when Jamaica hosts the Amateur Members Association World Championships at the Montego Bay Convention Centre.
Cunningham, who ranks with Subrina Richards as Jamaica's most internationally decorated female martial artists, won ISKA double gold in continuous and points sparring in Greece last May.
She rounded off a perfect season by also winning double gold, two months later, at the US Open, where she also led Jamaica's combined female martial arts team to a Caribbean Gold Cup title win over Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, and Argentina.
However, disappointment struck in Colombia this summer when the 33-year-old was told, on the eve of her karate bout, that the wild-card entry issued to Jamaica had been withdrawn before the start of the competition, which also served as a Pan-Am Games qualifier.
"I took a couple days off after Colombia, but started training again the following week, so I have been in training," Cunningham told The Gleaner.
NO DWELLING ON DISAPPOINTMENT
"I was training really hard for Colombia, back-to-back nights, after only getting a month's notice to prepare. I was still training over there, right up to the evening before the fight. I was really tired so I took that week off to recover, she explained.
"You have to recover from that to move on to something else. It makes no sense to sit back and dwell on that. Every disappointment has a reason, so you just have to try to make a comeback from that," the veteran fighter pointed out.
With Colombia behind her, Cunningham said considering what she had experienced in Greece 2017, she is taking no chances with the September 13-15 ISKA World Champs, even though she will be on home soil.
"At the ISKA World Champs, they have a lot of different disciplines and divisions - ring fighting, mixed martial arts (MMA), cage fighting, and tatami. The place was constantly packed. I was nervous, I am always nervous.
"The continuous fighting was my first and the biggest division. My first fight was hell - a German. She was tough. I later found out that this girl did everything - tatami, ring fighting, and MMA as well. I told myself if I could get through her, I could get though anybody else," Cunningham recalled.
"I am not sure who is coming to Jamaica, but if it is anything like Greece, it is going to be tough. I am going to prepare with Greece in mind," she added.
In addition to seeking what she termed ,"the perfect comeback after Colombia", Cunningham also wants to bow out of competitive martial arts on a high.
"This is my last year, the last time you will see me at home. I am retiring after the 2018 International Taekwon-Do Federation (ITF) World Cup in Australia," she revealed.
Originally a karate fighter, tae kwon do landed Cunningham her biggest prize to date - a bronze medal at the 2011 ITF World Championships in New Zealand, where she and Alrick Wanliss created history by finishing third in their respective divisions, becoming the first and only Jamaicans to have ever medalled in sparring at the event.