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Local swimmers in the right lane to aquatic success

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by Klysha Best

If you witnessed or read any of the news coming out of the August 4–11 Commonwealth Youth Games (CYG) 2023, staged for the first time in the Caribbean here in Trinidad & Tobago, you would have heard two names bandied about a lot during the swim competitions – Nikolai Blackman and Zarek Wilson.

Blackman is a former student of Fatima College, now on his way to the University of Tennessee, while Wilson, who attended Presentation College, San Fernando, is headed to college in Alabama.

During the CYG, Wilson surprised himself by breaking a Commonwealth world record in the 100 meters, walking away with a Gold, Silver, and Bronze.

Wilson said, “The events were fun. It was the first time that I had the whole of Trinidad and Tobago backing me at an event and it really helped and motivated me, especially when the third day came around when I was really tired.”

“I did the 100 meters fly which I won a Gold in, then I competed in the 50 meters backstroke and got Silver and then I did 50 meters freestyle, where I got Bronze.”

He continued, “The 100 fly, I felt really good. My technique was on point and when I saw one of my competitors catching up to me, I tried to hold on for as long as I could and luckily, I got the gold in that. For the 50 backstroke, I just really swam my arms really fast and hoped I got a medal, which I did. And, then I got bronze in the 50 freestyles, and for that I just put my head down and tried to focus on my own race and I did my best time of 22.95 and I got the bronze.”

Wilson said, prior to the game, he wasn’t sure what to expect.

“My coaches would tell me don’t look at the Pych sheets (which gives a look at the competitors and how they are seeded from fastest to slowest), not to get distracted with that and focus on your own race and that’s what I did.”

He noted, “The competitors were really chill and very supportive of each other, which is something you won’t see at most competitions. It’s normally competitive and it was really nice to have that at the CYG.”

Now that it’s over and he has Alabama in his sights, Wilson said he is looking forward to just having fun and racing with his new teammates.

He said his work level is obviously going to increase and he’s curious to see how he’s going to be able to balance all the schoolwork- as he will be studying business, and the fierce swim schedule at college.

However, Wilson said he knows he will succeed as he always puts his trust in God. “I know God has a plan for me like He does for everyone, so that helps me not to stress out a lot. I also live by the words ‘I can do anything through Christ Jesus who strengthens me.’”

Blackman meanwhile says he has prayer warriors on both sides of his family, and their support has always been a fuel for his success.

He was unbeaten in all his races – 50 meters freestyle, 100 meters freestyle and the 200 meters freestyle, copping Gold.

Blackman said this was his first time representing T&T at the CYG and going into it he was nervous because some of these countries he never raced before, but at the same time, some of these countries, he did race before.

“In some meets I go in telling myself I’m going to win and while I wasn’t as confident going into CYG, once I saw I was seeded (ranked) first in all my races, it did give me a boost.”

Blackman has competitions lined up post CYG like the World Juniors in Israel in September, Pan-American Seniors in Santiago, Chile in October, “and a bunch of school meets as well so my schedule is pretty jam-packed.”

“CYG was way different to any other international meet as it had a lot of Trinis competing. I made a lot of new friends, some of them I will be racing with soon on the collegiate level.”

Blackman is also thankful to God for his successes in the pool and said for those aiming to follow suit, “Don’t give up. Just because you are not winning at first does not mean you won’t in the future.”