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No hurdle too high for June Rudder


RIA GOODMAN, [email protected]

No hurdle too high for June Rudder

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IT’S BEEN DECADES since June Rudder cleared the horizontal bar or combined enough strength and agility to leap into a sand pit but the flame which burnt deep within her heart then for athletics has not been extinguished.

Since her involvement in sports as a student of the Christ Church Foundation Girls’ School, that included breaking a number of school records, sport went on to be more than an extracurricular activity; it was a lifestyle.

With a number of titles under her belt such as the director of Elite Sports, pioneer of the Barbados Relay Fair and former teacher and athletic coach at the Springer Memorial School, she told EASY magazine she was unaware of the forces which ignited her love for athletics.

“I couldn’t pin down my attraction to athletics to anything . . . . Just that I was good at it. I spent many of my leisure hours as a teenager stacking boxes and rocks and all types of things to practise my high jump. At home in the backyard my father cut a bamboo rod so I would stack the rod across these scaffoldings I had built and I had enough space I could use for a run-up. I was consumed with it,” she said as memories of what she called “good times” flooded back.

Rudder, who represented Barbados at the Central American Championships in Puerto Rico in the 1960s and at the Barrientos Memorial Games in Cuba said she never lost interest in track and field and saw it as divine intervention that she started teaching at the Springer Memorial School.

However, when she first began she was solely employed as a class teacher but after some time the board became aware of her involvement in sport and she was soon appointed to coach the track and field team.

“We laboured for quite a while because track was not a priority for the school . . . I certainly did not start out with [getting the school to the top in athletics] as my primary goal. My goal was to get the children involved in wholesome activity to show that they could be as good as anybody else. At that time the school did not have a particularly good reputation and it was all part of the greater effort of the school as a whole to improve its image and the quality of the students they were producing,” she revealed.

Though it was not her initial goal, it was certainly her highpoint to see Springer reach the top because people thought it was impossible and this achievement transformed the attitudes of the students and Barbadians towards the school. The wife and mother of three said that after recovering from illness which led to her retirement in 2000, Elite Sports was established by accident.

She said her dilemma was “what do I do now”, since other than her job at Springer, the only thing she knew was her involvement in amateur athletics from 1966.

A trip to compete in a relay meet in Puerto Rico after the school won the interschool championships for the third consecutive year in 1998 sparked ideas for an athletic meet which would change athletics in Barbados for the better.

“That experience was what really inspired me to come up with the concept of the Barbados Relay Fair and then I tweaked it to our national needs. At that time interschool sports was the only sporting on the calendar so I wanted to create another important event for athletes so they had a reason to train,” she said.

The relay meet in Puerto Rico inspired her dream but she needed to create a structure to host the event. It took her all of 2001 and 2002 to formulate the structure before the first relay fair in 2003.

She revealed that the relay fair began with just ten secondary school teams (she also invited a number of primary schools but did not get a response). The following year the interest grew and it did not only grab the interest of primary schools but of seniors.

“The relay fair had a unique character of being exciting, being able to build your team in particular and because it came early season it gave a chance to really serve as a team bonding exercise and went a long way towards getting people prepared for competitions later on in the year,” she said.

She let on that the number of overseas participants who gravitated toward the meet each year spoke to the esteem of the competition.

However, she revealed that one of the main challenges surrounding the relay fair was the availability of the National Stadium. In 2008 the committee opted not to have an event at all because they thought it would have been too difficult to manage. They certainly felt the fallout from that decision.

“It was not a good idea . . . and it was too hard to regain the ground you had lost. Even though it seemed like just a year it took us about three years to recover,” she explained, adding that in 2013 the stadium was  again unavailable and the decision to try Kensington led to a decline in participation from schools and spectators since people were not keen on running on grass.

In 2015 the problem presented itself once more but they decided to ride the waves.

She said she believed that for Barbados to become better as a country athletes needed a lot more varied competition and the relay fair was one of the meets which provided just that, offering a chance to challenge themselves.

“If we get to the stage where we can train people at the highest level and efforts are recognised it would make a lot of difference then you would not have the odd athlete qualifying you would have athletes in mass within the next ten years,” she said.

Rudder said everything started in the mind and right now individuals were taking responsibility for the challenge. She believes that once the country on a whole embraced the fact that they can be on the world stage it will happen.

“Springer’s motto comes into play ‘We have to believe it to achieve it’. We still challenge those who dare to go forward and they are not enough people who believe but it’s happening in other sports in smaller bites but we have to do it in larger bites to be noticed,” said Rudder.

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