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EASY MAGAZINE: Sprint to sweet success

Toni Yarde

EASY MAGAZINE: Sprint to sweet success

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JOYANN CLARKE has been jumping hurdles her whole life. Actually it’s the story of her life and the exact way that her intriguing athletic journey started. It was at age nine when she realised just how fast and talented she was at outrunning the competition and overcoming hurdles.
“I would run everywhere. If my mother sent me to the supermarket I would run. One day a dog literally ran me and I outran the dog. When I ran away from the dog I actually jumped over a bush. The dog tried to jump the bush and landed in the bush and that was when I realised how fast I was,” she said.
It was from then that Joyann picked up her life’s mantra: “Never let any obstacle stand in your way.” She has applied this to her varying roles through the years; from athlete, to administrator, to coach and physical education teacher. Her work and service has been “challenging but rewarding”.
On leaving St Andrew’s Primary School, she gained a place at Alleyne School, a stone’s throw away in her home village Belleplaine. While there, she won multiple victrix ludorum titles.  
In 1980, she was part of the Barbadian Carifta team which participated in Bermuda. She won four medals in the 100 metres, long jump, hurdles and relay, making her the first Barbadian woman to medal in the Under-17 100m sprint. She shares that glory with one other Bajan female athlete, Yolande Straughan.
But Joyann’s most fond memory of Carifta was standing on the medal podium with Juliet Cuthbert from Jamaica and Eldece Clarke of Bahamas, both of whom went on to become Olympian medallists. (Juliet won two individual silver medals and a relay bronze while Eldece won gold and silver relay medals.)
Joyann won silver in a three-way tie in the Under- 17 Women’s 100m, with all three of them clocking 12.0 seconds.
“If at that time I was right in there with two Olympic gold medallists there is no reason why I should not have been an Olympian too,” she said.
Sadly, back then, the logistics of qualifying for a national team proved to be a major hurdle even for a speedy Joyann. In 1982, she was invited to Olympic trials to qualify for the Barbadian national team. The qualifying track meet took place in Kentucky, United States and not at the National Stadium.
So Joyann, who had just left university in the United States and returned home, was required to raise her own funds to travel back to the United States in order to qualify. It was one financial hurdle her parents could not overcome at the time.
However, the real reward that came from the 1980 Carifta Games was in being sought out by East Michigan University scouts who were in Bermuda.
Her university years at East Michigan were a “serious challenge” with temperatures measuring as low as 30 degrees below zero.
“I can’t imagine how I was able to cope in that place for four years in that cold, cold weather . . . . Even running indoors is totally different. The atmosphere in the air, everything is just totally different. You feel like you are going to die,” she said.
Her motivation was in knowing why she was there, Joyann admitted, so she quickly saw all those things as small hurdles she had to overcome.
“I didn’t take very long in doing that. I was determined,” she said with a smile.
It took her two years to acclimatise before she actually got in any real athletic work. So that by the time she was fully performing, her stint at the university was nearing an end.
“Truth is I wanted to stay and compete but the finances weren’t there. So I had to come back home and find a job.
With a bachelor’s degree in health and physical education, Joyann returned to her alma mater Alleyne Secondary School as a physical education teacher and gave 12 years of service there. In 2000, she accepted a job in Bermuda teaching at the Sandys Secondary Middle School where she stayed for nine years.
She believes that stint in the British territory was a turning point in her life. “I came back more mature in my thinking and outlook on life. There is so much you learn from working in an environment like that where everything is so structured. You have to learn patience in a place like that.
“I used to be one of these people who wouldn’t let anything pass me. If I see wrong, I will fix it.
I will deal with it. That is who I was. I come back home and mellowed out a lot.
“I got to do so many things there. People there appreciated me so much. The only reason I returned was because I wanted to send my daughter to UWI and I did not want to send her home alone,” the teacher of 26 years said. Her daughter Aklilah Martin is a Carifta gold medallist.
After her time in Bermuda she returned home and has since been teaching physical education at Ellerslie Secondary School. Thursday and Friday she will be busy at the National Stadium preparing the school’s team for the Barbados Secondary Schools Athletics Championships (BSSAC) finals.
The soon-to-be 50-year-old was part of the Barbados 2000 Sydney Olympics administrative team. She has served as manager or assistant manager travelling with national teams to compete in Carifta, Commonwealth Games, Pan Am Games, World Championship, World Juniors and CAC Championships. She has sat on the Amateur Athletic Association’s council and on the BSSAC committee. She is currently vice president of the PE Teachers Association of Barbados (PETAB).
She marvels at the fact that she was able to witness athletics history for this country.
“I was on the team when Andrea Blackett won her Commonwealth Games gold medal. I was on the team when Obadele won his Olympic bronze medal,” she said with pride.
She was inducted recently in East Michigan University’s Athletic Hall Of Fame, 29 years after graduating from. It’s an honour which Joyann refers to as “the crowning moment to a mixed run” in her track career.
“I read the congratulatory letter from the university four times,” she said. “I was in disbelief. I wanted to see if they had the wrong name and missed and sent it to me by mistake.”
She was the only Caribbean national to be inducted at the February 15 ceremony at the university. Seven other Caribbean natives have been so honoured, with the first being Trinidad and Tobago’s 1976 Olympic 100m champion Hasely Crawford.
“It is the greatest feeling. It only goes to show that no good deed goes unnoticed. It took 29 years for my university to acknowledge that Joyann Clarke was one of the most outstanding athletes that came through Eastern Michigan University halls.”
“It means the world to me. The records are still there to show what I accomplished,” the former sprinter said.
The recognition is for her college success. Joyann won five Mid-American Conference (a National Collegiate Athletic Association) individual titles and also ran on four championship relay teams.
At the 1982 indoor games, she won the 60m dash and ran in the 4x100m team. The same year in the outdoor meet she won the 200m and was part of the winning 4x100m and shuttle relay teams.
Two years later at the outdoor games, Joyann won the 55m dash and was a member of the the 4x100m relay team. She still holds the record for the fastest time (6.7 secs) in the 55m dash in indoor games. In 1985, she won the 100m and 200m races and was part of the winning 4 x 100m relay team.
That experience also taught the former hurdler that “we as coaches and physical education teachers must pay attention to where we send our athletes for scholarships.
“We are sending our athletes to places that they are not compatible. And a lot of them are not performing because of the climate.”
In spite of her achievements, Joyann says her greatest life satisfaction comes from teaching and touching the lives of children.
“When you realise you can put out children who are respectful, total all-round good citizens. It’s the best feeling in the world. Teaching is one of those careers where you deal with 30-odd lives in one go. Some days you deal with over 100 students. I’ve had a hand in national athletes like Ronald Thorne and Nikkisha Maynard.”
It is a “warm feeling” when she comes in contact with past students.
“It is so gratifying when you walk the street and hear ‘ma’am’.
It means I have impacted the lives of so many children. That is a better feeling than being the athlete and basking in my own accomplishments.” 
She urged parents to support their children 100 per cent: “Children have to do what they are comfortable with. The support of the parents will determine where the children go. Let them live their dreams.”
Her advice to those seeking athletic glory: “Education out of athletics is one of the easiest ways to earn a scholarship. If you have the talent, commitment, dedication and passion for the sport you can make a career out of it. Do the best that you can. Where ever it takes you; go with it.”