On Labour: for Eddie Seaga

no  boat. no gravy. nothing curry

bring your own  lunch money

no laughter. no negro spiritual

no ease up. just know

that just now

will have to be silent toil

with the eyes fixed in on the loom

on a bench

in the gloom. of Marcus Garvey

drive.  bones bleaching out

things jamaican out

a good year    galvon     zinc factory    wharf 

free zone. stitching together

a dollar a day. a dollar to care

is impossible 

to sing:

revolution is work

prosperity is labour. 

A Boy’s Champs Testimony

It is 2015. 20 years ago, almost to the day, I took my first terrified steps up through the tunnel on the back-stretch side of the stadium,  to take my place in Jamaican track and field history (fortunately for me, that history book contains many footnotes).

There was no preparing myself for the avalanche of sensory stimuli on the track side of the National Stadium, the glare of the buzzing flood lights,  the roar of the crowd, the screams of thousands of people transformed into an indecipherable garbled and metallic groan.

Still, I tried to keep things together. My coach’s instructions were simple enough, even in the heat of things: we had a favourable heat. I was to run out my tripe on the third leg, the  second  200 m leg of the medley,  and make it in first, before JC(… before @#*&* JAY CEE! ). I was to give Vassell (r.i.p) a lead going into the 800 leg.

It was no easy thing to keep all the dramas playing out inside me contained. Just moments before, I was rubbing shoulders on the warm-up track with demigods of the sport, stars: Michael “Big Bull” Campbell, Dwight “Bigga” Thomas, Roy Bailey, Michael Frater, big big BIG guns! Before those encounters I thought that my body was finely tuned down to the last muscle, that I was ready and peaking. Then I saw the machines. The boys who had performed at the global level and won or medalled. Only the folly and bravado of youth kept me from kicking off my spikes and going home to study my damn book.

I was a mash of nerves and energy, doing my windsprints on the Stadium East track, playing oblivious to what was waiting for me inside on the chevron. React/ Clear the blocks/Head down/  Chin to chest/ short drive phase/ Maximum velocity/ Upright/release the jaw/ work the arms and glide like a jet over land. “Guh easy mi runner don’t kill them yet, don’t kill them yet, plus is a relay yu running, is a standing start”

There is race preparation and then comes the race. I stepped on to that track, the gun went off, and the only thing I remember hearing after that was the sound of my own breath. And this doesn’t describe things clearly enough.  It was more than that. The only thought in my head was my breath, the state of it in the moment, too shallow, too quick, too  much escaping through my mouth. And all this before I even had the baton in my hand!

It felt like seconds from the sound of the gun to the baton reaching my hand. I received it in 3rd with the runner in 4th bearing down on us. That night I experienced something akin to what has  been described as flow. It’s this state of no time. The moment I received the baton everything of a deliberative nature left. There was no space for me to  wonder if I was fit or fast enough to hold my own in this class field. I was momentarily existing fully in an experience, living the breath, living the slackening of the jaw, the shoulders relaxing, the full body, flexing, striding, moving without mind. For the first half of the race I gave all of me over to the months of drilling, on driving the arms, on lifting the knees, on butt kicks, the lunges. It was just running on belief, taking myself as myself out of the way and just allowing all of the preparation, the body conditioning to all come together in smooth, seamless and flowing momentum. The first hundred meters was experienced all in one.

That was the first hundred meters…

I was truly motoring. And let me be clear, high school track and field in Jamaica is no joke. I was in a race with more  than a few  seeming freaks of nature, boy/men clocking warp-speed like normal.  And yet I was right there in the mix with them. The first 100 might have been something of a meditation on motion,  but after that, I began to notice myself. It was hard not to. The last hundred  of the two hurt. I began to think again

“Breathe, relax, use your form.”

“Breathe, relax, form it out…use your arms”.

And beyond  the fog, as I slowly came back to suffer through the ache of my ever tightening hamstrings, there was the Jamaica College  runner, the one I was supposed to beat like something wound up and let loose onto the track *steups* He was looking like a giant mass of muscle, going, going. “Catch him”. *steups* “Catch him?” It would have been better if my coach had asked me to prepare a paper on every chip and crack that was on the bottom of that JC boy’s spikes. I would have been able to pepper that paper with fine-detail sketches of his back…would have done that easy, with one hand behind MY back. Request it and I could have waxed lyrical  about that boy’s fade… not his face.  Yes, I remember vividly contemplating that JC boy’s haircut,  wondering if he was a client of Lance’s at Upper Cut Barber shop. I remember the ashiness of his Achilles, the veination in his calves. Don’t ask me to tell you anything about that man’s face. I remember nothing of it. I could tell you nothing about  his chest, about his knees. In the days after the race you’d hear me joking with my team mates bout the JC runner’s “alleged face”, and his “alleged knee”. If somebody told me that the man had three eyes and a tree growing out of his nostril,  I wouldn’t have any direct evidence to the contrary. I could not catch that boy.

My frustration at being unable to pass JC, worked to my advantage. It was not until the very last few meters of my leg that I realized I’d taken my team into second spot. At the handover one and two were JC and Campion College. JC (the athletics and sprinting power house) first and Campion College (the tennis and waterpolo specialists) second (… Oh yes, and chess! Let’s not forget our prowess in chess). But that day, the underdogs were taking names. As I handed the baton off to the fourth leg runner, I heard someone, a girl, screaming. “Run Kashka, Run”. I of course could not see her, but in the later retellings she was buxom and devastatingly beautiful.

The final leg was 800m long and was run by Gregory Vassel, who sadly perished in a motor vehicle accident in March 2000. Gregory performed valiantly. JC’s final-leg runner began with an intimidating surge. But Gregory was unbothered.  He gradually tracked JC, reeling them in, with every step just eating  into the lead. At the 400m mark, it was clear we’d be in the mix at the end. But as Gregory gained on JC, so did the other runners gain on him. When, at about the 550 meter mark,  the third place runner surged forward and passed Gregory briefly, Gregory became spooked and decided to make his move. To kick for the last 250 meters was always going to be a big ask and by the end it became clear that he should have probably bided his time for 15 or so meters more.  His final kick started off well enough. Gregory eventually  caught up with the JC runner. He was running shoulder to shoulder with him with only 100 meter to go. But Gregory’s legs left him on the home straight. By 40 meters  out,  he could barely manage a proper stride. And as he lost his form, straining to keep pace with JC, two other runners gained on him and pipped him on the line, albeit in a blanket finish. Gregory collapsed on the ground, totally spent. By this time our entire  team was was at the finish line, waiting for the placements to be sorted out. In the end we missed out on the finals by a whisker.

The disappointment didn’t last long. What a rush of emotion that first Champs experience was! I participated in Champs after 95 and those times were special too, but that first experience of  night under the stadium bulbs was always going to be hard to top. There is a specific magic about  Boys’ Championships (as it was called in my era). Those were days spent in community with team mates and fellow runners, warming up on the  Stadium East field, joking and lounging in the bleachers, perched on  the cycling track as participant and fan, sitting in the front row of the entire world, watching future Olympic athletes live and die for their school colours. Giving it their all, just like you.

Every year around this time, I cannot help  but relive my Champs days.  I wouldn’t trade those experiences for anything. I learnt some valuable lessons. As you can imagine, given the quality of my competition, most of those lessons  relate to humility.  I came away from Champs with my life’s philosophy. It sustains me to this day: “Today for you, tomorrow for me.” Even if you’re not the best man in the blocks on the day, run your race even if it means you’re going to get a strap-up. You ou will get better, you will get lucky, invariably you will have your day. But if worst comes to worst next year you can exact your revenge as the biggest fish in the little pond of your school’s sports day. At least there, the other participants will be nervous to line up in a race with you  because, after all: “di man run a Champs,  yu kno!”. They’ll  be so overawed that they won’t even think to make that most important of enquiries: “a o’much yu come a Champs?” But even if they do ask, yu don’t have to tell them. Because, unless yu medal, what happens at Champs, STAYS at Champs😌. Continue racing…
#Champs #jamaica #trackandfield