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A change agent in Rugby

Kwanieze John is surrounded by her team of youth players

by Jamila Gamero

Have you been toiling in your proverbial vineyard with your career, family, divine calling and, even in the midst of your most fervent prayer and supplication, felt like still water?

‘Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.’ 2 Corinthians 4:16

Each of us has a personal calling that is as unique as a fingerprint — the best way to success is to discover what you love and find ways to offer it to others in the form of service.

I recently met a young woman at the Trinidad and Tobago Olympic Committee’s ‘Advancing Women in Leadership’ forum who is living her seeds of greatness because people in her life have spoken about her amazing talents. She, in turn, has made it her life assignment to inspire young people through her work, and commitment to the sport of rugby on the international stage.

The indomitable and inspirational Kwanieze John, born in 1989 is a former Belmont Girls’ RC, and St Francois Girls College student. While at secondary school, she was always engaged in her school’s various sports and cultural activities.

Kwanieze admits that while growing up with a large, extended family in Belmont, she was always in close proximity to the Queen’s Park Savannah, but it was her father Steve Mayers who inspired her passion for sport at an early age.

At 15, a critical turning point came when Simone Kitty Andrew, a representative from The Royalians Rugby Football Club, recruited her entire form class to join the club’s Women’s Team.

Royalians became her extended family, a safe space and fun environment for her to channel her energy in a positive way while facing challenges in her home environment.

Kwanieze admits that her family was initially hesitant about her choice of sport, but her natural athletic prowess, independent decision-making, and discipline drove her success and eventually greater family support. After two years in the sport, Kwanieze received her first national team summons, and worked hard as the youngest on the team.

Kwanieze’s ability to represent her country became difficult after a severe injury. Her pain however, brought purpose. She credits Catherine Forde, and Brian Lewis of the Trinidad and Tobago Olympic Committee with providing her both support and opportunities that are now manifesting. She stands tall in her shoes as the first Caribbean woman to become the Programme Manager for Get into Rugby Americas North.

As programme manager, she oversees 18 countries in the Caribbean and America, executing the overarching plans of the World Rugby Organisation — supporting local rugby unions while executing a “sport for all” development model that promotes participation, training and education programmes for coaches, and athletes in the sport of rugby.

Reflecting on our conversation, I asked this 28-year-old former athlete what was her driving force to continue her work.  “My father always told me, ‘You don’t need a title to be a leader, simply be the change you want to see.’”

Jamila Gamero is a triathlete and former professional footballer for Sevilla FC women’s Club in Spain. She is the mother of two boys, Tishad and Akim, and the founder of the Mariama Foundation, a registered non-profit organisation raising the storytelling bar for the Caribbean’s female athletes.