“My story begins on Quarry Street, East Dry River, Port of Spain. I am the product of Nelson Street Girls’, Holy Name Convent and a single-parent household, with a mother who had excellent penmanship and an unrelenting drive to ensure I was focused on education. If I did not have education, I surely may have ended up on the block….I was too bright and had to use the outlet that education provided to excel.”
As she enters the coffee shop in The University of the West Indies, St Augustine campus for our conversation, I am beaming with excitement and anticipation. There are limitless possibilities at one’s disposal when using adjectives to describe Dennise Demming. She is undoubtedly one of the most confident, self-assured women I have ever come across in my life.
The first thing you notice about her is her beautiful mass of grey hair; she must have been born with it, I think to myself because she wears it like the crown of an African queen.
She stands tall in her shoes towering with boldness and a warm, genuine smile that immediately sets you at ease because you know that you are in the presence of a serious, and elegant woman. As we settle down to our interview, Dennise chronicles her engagement in sport from her early experiences playing with Checkers Hockey Club which provided the fertile, and nurturing environment where she began to understand the importance of physical exercise in her life.
Fast-forward 30 years on, Dennise, approaching her 50th birthday made a ‘bucketlist’ commitment to herself to complete a marathon before age 50.
“I had done most of what life dictates: marriage, children, and career. I guess, I was simply looking for the next challenge and I never looked back. I have completed nine marathons since that first promise, including the Toronto and Cuba marathons, my tenth has eluded me thus far, but I continue to train.”
Subsequent to completing her first marathon she began her involvement with Trinidad and Tobago Road Runners Club (TTRRC). “I never considered myself as a serious athlete, but I was elected as President of TTRRC where perhaps what was needed was structure and leadership. On reflection, what clubs and sporting organisations like TTRRC provide is a group that loves each other; people share their stories, tips, and give you encouragement.”
She continues, “The great misfortune, however is that many of these clubs have no permanent home for the service provided which in many instances involves keeping young persons energised and positive. We have to begin the process of allowing organisations like these to thrive in our country.”
I press Dennise during our conversation some more, asking her to describe the marathon experience, and any similarities with the life journey. I ask the ultimate question, are there times in the race where you simply want to give up?
She alludes to the fact that many negative messages creep into the subconscious during a marathon and if you allow them to be more potent than your will to push through you can give up.
“Because of my early childhood environment, failure is not a part of my psyche. “The last five miles (marathon), your body and mind are under tremendous pressure; you need all the help you can get. It is during these times my husband, a former 400-metre runner would finish the race at my side, one foot in front the other. I am not going to fail!”
After the interview, I’m left with a greater appreciation for where the drive resides in a single woman’s commitment towards positive change, her consistent and articulate call for a more innovative approach towards nation building. Dennise describes her new mantra as: “The need to create walkable spaces in our country”, a higher level of movement; sport should become the weapon of choice, for it has a tremendous role to play in creating safer spaces in our communities, we the people need to provide a more facilitative environment for this to happen.
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.