By Akeem Greene
Inevitably, the stories of great athletes overcoming tremendous challenges in their pursuit of sporting excellence invoke emotions, sometimes goosebumps.
Getting past stumbling blocks to achieve stardom are not an unpopular theme in sport, and oftentimes the triumphs are glorified. In that moment of glorification, the struggles all seemed worth it, not just for the athlete, but the nation he/she represents.
News Room Sport brings you the story of Leslain Baird, a javelin athlete from Guyana, who battled injury to unleash the best throw of his life. It uplifted a nation, knowing that a son of the soil prospered. He won silver at the South American Games, which concluded just last week in Bolivia.
Baird threw 78.65 meters to set a new national record in his final attempt. He finished behind Colombia’s Arley Ibarguen, who took gold with a best attempt of 80.11 meters.
Entering the competition as the third ranked competitor, chances of medalling were always high, but he was given a rude awakening- the unwelcoming weather in the city of Cochabamba, which is roughly 8,398 feet above sea level.
“I had to give it my all, put on my A game; On my fourth throw I hurt my shoulder for which I went back to my coach [Robert Chislom]; he told me its either you do it or you don’t it. All he wants to see is that I execute and give it more than he asked. I was also affected by the air and coldness; simple running I was punishing to breathe,” Baird recounted.
He added, “On my fifth throw I just prayed to God to give me strength to help me throw (as) far as possible and while running down the run way my mind went blank just before I released the javelin, I didn’t know what happen but I fell. The javelin landed but it looked close and when I got up my left leg got numb and I had to be stretched off the field, I didn’t know what was my distance.”
The taste of success for the lad from Calcutta, Mahaicony, East Coast Demerara, opened his appetite for even greater accomplishments, the first of which will be the Central American and Caribbean Games.
If he’s successful there, it will put him in line for the Pan American Games next year, which is a pathway to the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo.
The 31-year-old made a late entry into athletics, at the age of 23, and took a liking to the 400m, but made a gradual shift in focus to the field event since more improvements were occurring in that area.
The added attention saw him break the 28-year-old national record in 2013 while competing in Trinidad and Tobago. He had a throw of 65.32 metres, which surpassed Lionel Schultz’s 64.80m record, which was set on September 18, 1985 in Georgetown.
It was his first taste of major success and though more records tumbled at his feet, the stardom he wanted still evaded him, but in his eyes the lights never faded.
“Success like this evaded me but it just motivated me to keep going. Every athlete in life has a time when you feel like giving up and on many occasions this has happened to me. Some days you are at training and not getting it right or at competition you are not improving for an entire year,” he said.
He continued, “Sometimes I ask myself what I am doing this sport for? Putting my body through all this pain, getting injured, spending money when you know you are not getting it back. A lot of days I borrowed money to go train. I do all of this because I just love the sport and love making people happy and most of all representing the Guyana Defence Force and my country. I love the colours of our flag and whenever I go out there to compete I tell myself I come to fight war and I am the first line of defence.”
He was also first in line for a promotion by the GDF when he returned from Bolivia since he completed a challenge set by Chief-of-Staff, Brigadier Patrick West, which resulted in him being promoted from Petty Officer to the rank of Acting Senior Petty Officer. Brigadier West had challenged the soldier to a throw of 77.5 metres.
Highly appreciative of the move by his superiors, Baird, who has been attached to the Coast Guard for 12 years, selflessly contended that on a national front more must done for athletes.
“Let’s not take a picture when they return and then we soon forget about them.”