Gardner hurdles field to cop award
Ryon Jones, Gleaner Writer
World and Olympic 400m hurdles semi-finalist, Dr Neil Gardner, was his usual flamboyant self, as he walked away with the coveted Courtney Walsh Award for Excellence during Wednesday night's ritzy ceremony at The Jamaica Pegasus hotel.
The 36-year-old athlete-turned-chiropractic neurologist's opening remark in accepting the $500,000 prize money and a lovely crystal trophy, was: "Yes, I am deserving of this award," as he refused "to shrink, so as to not let other persons feel insecure."
Gardner who made it to the semi-final of the 400m hurdles at the 1996 Olympics, and 2001 World Championship where he placed fifth in 48.30 seconds and sixth in 49.57 seconds, respectively, was quick to point out, however, that the other three nominees; international women's cricketer of the year Stafanie Taylor, multiple-medal-winning special Olympian Nigel Davis, and 15-year Sunshine Girls veteran Nadine Bryan, all merited winning the award.
"I, being deserving of this award, doesn't make my co-nominees any less deserving, and that is the important thing," Gardner expressed. "It is very humbling, because honourable Mr Walsh is one of the athletes I really respect for his achievements not only on the field, but also off. He is a true gentleman, and to be a recipient of an award in his honour is really something else, and I am really grateful," Gardner added.
Gardner was the seventh recipient of the illustrious award, which was established in 2005 by then Prime Minister P.J. Patterson and supported by the National Council on Sports in collaboration with the CHASE Fund, to formally recognise the achievement of a sportsperson who displays a high level of humility, integrity, discipline and other exemplary qualities, while excelling in the field of sports. The previous awardees were James 'Jimmy' Adams, Deon Hemmings-McCatty, Elaine Davis, Nehemiah Perry, Brigitte Foster-Hylton and, last year's winner, Aleen Bailey.
During his long and distinguished athletics career, which ended in 2005, Gardner won five bronze, three silvers and one gold medal at the CARIFTA Games between 1989 and 1993, across three separate disciplines; high jump, triple jump and 110m hurdles. He was also the 1997 Penn Relays champion in the 400m hurdles and is, to date, the only male in the history of the NCAA to have won titles in the 400m hurdles and the 55m hurdles events, while representing Michigan State University.
The Wolmerian also represented his high school with distinction and was named the Inter-Secondary School Sports Association athlete of the decade - 1990 to 2000.
Minister of Youth, Sports and Culture Olivia Grange, who also represented Prime Minister Bruce Golding, paid tribute to all the nominees, but believed Gardner was a worthy winner.
"I think all the nominees were worthy of the nomination and I think the winner deserved the award," Grange stated. "Certainly, he epitomises the excellence and persona of Courtney Walsh in whose honour the award has been established," she added.
Walsh echoed the minister's sentiments while revealing that he was pleased that the award ceremony was moved to October, the month in which National Heroes Day and his birthday are celebrated.
"I think all the nominees were worthy nominees ... I had nothing to do with choosing the winner, but I think he (Gardner) was a deserving winner," Walsh said. "Just to have the award named in my honour from day one was something special, and this is its seventh year and I am just happy to be apart of it and to be associated with it," he added.