By Jamila Cross email@example.com
Recently a friend shared a YouTube video of a 97-year-old athlete Charles Eugster also known as ‘the fittest pensioner on the planet’. He picked up sprinting at age 95 and proudly holds two masters world records.
Amazingly, he still trains six days a week, and prior to COVID-19 he travelled the world competing.
Charles states during his docustory that society has stamped us with an expiry date, “we recycle everything else, and we should recycle ourselves.” He emphasises at 97, “It is never over until it’s over.”
That is the premise of this week’s column, that no matter the current circumstances that we have been weathering for 2020 the story is not over!
Born on Margarita Island, Venezuela on September 15, 2001 Juan Luis Guilarte Albornoz migrated with his family at four months of age to Trinidad and Tobago.
His mother is a well-loved university lecturer, and community advocate who is active in her church migrant ministry, Spanish Masses and coordinates various community outreach activities.
Juan has lived his entire life as a “Trini-Venezuelan”, speaks English with an undeniable Trini accent, and Spanish his native tongue. Although he has resided here and attended both primary and secondary schools in this country for almost 19 years, he still does not possess dual citizenship.
He speaks fondly of his life in Trinidad and his madre patria Venezuela. “I do not feel more Trinidadian, nor Venezuelan, I have grown to love both cultures equally. My family is also from an island, so I appreciate liming with friends and family, going to the beach, and Christmas which we celebrate in Venezuela on December 24.”
Until 2014, he would return annually to Venezuela to spend time with his grandparents, and extended family. “I am the grandson of a famous Venezuelan athlete on Isla Margarita known as ‘el latigo’, he played beisbol, considered the national sporting pastime, and was known for his powerful pitching ability.”
Juan Luis passed his SEA exams for Holy Cross College and began playing football at school as a defensive player.
“I learnt the fundamentals of the game in secondary school, not having an early introduction to the sport gave me the impetus to excel and improve constantly.” All of his school friends played football, and he remembers being the oddball.
He was short, overweight, and football was a tool for him to socialise, to be healthy, and he felt the inspiration through sport to become the best player he could.
He became obsessed with the game, and it became a sore point at home as his academics suffered. “I wanted to improve, and I dedicated time and effort to this at the expense of my academics. My mother was not willing to see this happen, and I was encouraged to refocus and balance my academics and my love for sport.”
One day during a family outing to the Eddie Hart savannah he noticed a group of persons playing for a football academy. They were fully uniformed, and he had a strong desire to join the club.
He credits his football coach and mentor Bernard Garcia, Director of Diem Sports Academy with seeing beyond his athletic ability and encouraging him to look at football for its power to develop discipline and a strong character. He describes the relationship with his coach as playing a pivotal role in his life.
“I began to use football not only for enjoyment but continuing my training during exams allowed me the opportunity to be focused during the stressful times of CSEC exams.”
Who do you admire most in your sport?
Paolo Maldinifor his defensive prowess, and Gianluigi Buffon for his dominance in goal.
Do you have any pre-game rituals?
I pray before every game and spend moments in silence at home resting prior to the game.
Describe your training regime for me?
At the moment, I play football and volleyball six days a week.
Where do you see yourself in the next three years?
Completing my studies at the University of Trinidad & Tobago (UTT) and playing both volleyball and football at university.
What does success mean to you?
Doing something that not only makes me happy, but through hard work and dedication literally your tears, and triumphs are a victory for those who believed in you.
Who do you call after a win?
My mother Ruth, I love and adore her.
Juan, now almost 19, is a student at St George’s College and he hopes to be admitted into the Criminology and Public Safety programme at the UTT in 2021.
Juan feels privileged to live in a country where he has access to the basic things in life. He has a social consciousness that far surpasses his age; he has experienced xenophobia, and at times has felt ostracised in Trinidad, but notes that this does not bother him; the good has outweighed the dark moments.
He walks proudly with a sense of humility and strength that he has garnered from his family.
Together with his siblings, his family supports his church community at Fatima RC Church, Curepe in distributing food, and hygiene items for migrant families in need.
Migrants are people like you and I, mothers, children, families. Xenophobia has no place in our society and we as a nation can do better once, we know better! He ends our conversation with his personal ethos. “We should all try to leave a footprint on where we stand to the point that we are phenomenal and never forgotten!”
Jamila Cross is a triathlete, former professional footballer for Sevilla FC women’s Club Spain, and mother of three boys Tishad, Akim and Santiago. She is the founder of the Mariama Foundation, a registered non-profit organisation raising the storytelling bar for the Caribbean’s female athletes.