Tuesday 1st February, 2005


Making a difference - stay focussed

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On January 26, 2005, champion cyclist, Michael Phillips addressed forms four to six students of Barrackpore Secondary Comprehensive School and Barrackpore Secondary School

Michael Phillips, champion cyclist and artist.

Photo: Tony Howell

Address by Michael Phillips

One of the things that I would like to speak to you about today is based on an experience that I had. This morning I went to a funeral in Diego Martin for a gentleman who was a member of the Queen’s Park Oval, he was very involved in sports. Most importantly he was very kind to the people that he met and was always a joy to be around. As I looked around there were people from all different levels of society from the grounds man at the oval to the CEO’s of RBTT Bank and all these people were there to pay their respects for this man. They also showed genuine pain for his passing. That’s the impact he had on people.

Let me tell you about an experience which I had about ten years ago that was a big turning point in my life which caused me to reflect on the type of person I was. I was approaching what I consider to be the tip of my cycling career. All I thought about really was cycling, everything was cycling. When I got up in the morning I thought about cycling, going to sleep at night I was thinking cycling. I was always thinking about the next training day or the next race. So much so that I was only concentrating and only involved with my cycling, everything that I did was for myself.

I went to Cuba to train for the Pan American Games and while in Cuba I got into a car accident. I went from driving down the road one minute and the next time I was conscious I was actually in a hospital covered in blood. The other people in the car were seriously damaged and I made a decision that no matter what, I was going to take part in this race. I told myself ‘I am still going to go ahead for the next week and a half to ride in the trials’. The Doctors told me don’t do it, but I said to myself I am going to do it. When I was finished that trial my head started spinning and I started to blackout and at that point in time I remembered saying to myself ‘I don’t care if I dropped dead once I was riding’ ....... but then I started thinking if I really dropped dead what would my life have meant? What impact would I have had on other people? What purpose or good would I have done to make sure that people were inspired to do other things, or be all they could be?

And that was the turning point in my life, when I realised that I had to give back and ensure that people within the community who came into contact with me were inspired. So it encouraged me to work harder, it encouraged me to be better than I could be and also it encouraged me to think about other people.

Now I want you all to think about this - what is your life going to account to at the end of your years? One of the things I have always spoken about was name recognition, character building. Everyone here knows Nike & Adidas. They are brand names. But tell me, if you were to see “Puff Daddy” walking up the street, let’s say he decided to take a vacation in Trinidad and he was taking a drive through Barrackpore would you walk up to him and give him $100? What about Michael Jordan would you walk up to him and give him $100?

Most young people while growing up, especially now the way advertising goes, believe that if you wear this brand you will stand out and if you don’t wear this brand you are not cool. Lots of students feel pressured and they lose focus. Based on my experience I could tell you one of the most difficult things to do is say no all the time. What I’m trying to get over to you is the fact that your purpose, who you are, your dream is not determined by who you are with, or what you are wearing, but is determined by your level of focus.

If you look at an awards show the interviewer comes up to the celebrity and asks “who are you wearing”? How can you make that work for you? By becoming your own brand name. Let me tell you how I developed this. I chose my friends correctly. I wanted to be a business person so a lot of my friends were older than I was and I learned from them. I was not going to ask people my own age, who were in school, they were not business people. So you learn by starting to choose your friends correctly. If you open The Guardian everyday there are vacancies for lots of jobs and I think there are jobs in there that you would want to do, you would have to start asking yourselves questions like what do I have to do to get that job? Prepare for the opportunity.

Yesterday I was at Queen’s Park Savannah giving a talk on substance abuse which is quite prevalent throughout Trinidad & Tobago. Personally at 32 years of age I have never drank a beer, rum and coke, vodka or anything like that. Alcohol is something that’s legal and it’s your choice after a certain age. It is also something that can destroy a family and a career. We all have to face our weaknesses. One of my weaknesses during my cycling career was sugar. Sugar for an athlete is detrimental to their career, yes you need some for energy but after that what you don’t burn stays on as fat. That for me was my personal challenge dealing with a sweet tooth. We all have our personal weaknesses and challenges and we have to make an effort to fight them and remain focused. Again its what you do to find inspiration from the people around you.

Anyone here like bicycles? This is a poster for an event which I promote, West Indies versus the world cycling championship. My reason for doing it is to develop and take the sport far wider than it has ever been and also to establish a West Indies team which includes Cuba, Santo Domingo. This year my challenge is to bring one million dollars to this competition. That’s the amount of money I have to raise. Last year I raised $750,00.00. Each of these logos on this poster represents a product or a company. These people who sponsored this event gave money but they also trusted me with their name. I needed to be credible.

So too you have the opportunity to add credibility to your name. That means study hard, do what you supposed to do, find yourself pointing in the direction of your selected career. Remember the first set of credits you are going to get from your school are your passes. You will also need recommendations from your teachers to be able to go for a job interview. Instead of saving money to buy an expensive pair of jeans to go to a party, save your money and buy a business suit. One of the best investments yo can make is buying yourself a business suit. Remember you may be going to an interview with someone who has the same qualifications as you, they may look very familiar to you, with the same presentation in terms of speaking. The difference may be that you have taken the time to dress better.

To be able to do what I am doing here today I had to practice. I listened to the news regularly and I started playing back what was being said in my head. I then started to repeat sentences and I paid attention to how people structured certain sentences. I practised constantly. If you have to go to an interview be prepared to be sharp in terms of your speech, pronunciation and how you look. Practise from now. Now getting back to the trademark or brand name. Your ability to perform tasks and complete them in the time you said you would all adds credit to your name. Whatever it is you are involved in, whatever job you may be in you are building a name for yourself. How many of you started practising your signature? I want you to go home today and start practising your signature and start becoming proud of that signature. Why? Because the value of that signature, the value of your name can enable you to be able to buy a house, a car, whatever it may be. Or you may be an international athlete and that signature may enable you to get an endorsement. So practice your signature and build credits to your name.

This is a brochure from one of my art exhibitions. It’s important for me to show you what you can do if you put your mind to it. When I reflect on what I was doing in primary and secondary school it was certainly not at this level. I started to develop this talent when I needed money to ride. When I was traveling I did paintings and swapped them for hotel accommodation. Instead of me becoming upset and thinking I should be sponsored, after all I’m representing Trinidad and Tobago I was able to develop another talent I had. One thing that kept me from becoming bitter and losing focus is the fact that I always remember the words of my grandmother, “in life no one owes you anything”. Through all those obstacles, every hardship I had to go through gave me the opportunity to build character.

Let me just mention to you the need to develop balance in your life. I’m talking about balance in your school work and with the preparation and development of yourself. Remember when you leave school and you get a job, you are probably going to get married. You are eventually going to have kids most of you. And then you are going to have to manage your family between kids, husband, house and groceries. You need to develop that personal character and balance from now.

Two students forwarded questions to Michael Phillips. Here are their questions and Michael's responses.

Q. Dear Michael,

How does one cope with the loss of a loved one? Kizzianne

A. Dear Kizzianne,

To greave for a loved one is a natural thing and is never easy. Hold your memories close to you. Share what you have learnt from your experiences with that person. Work on being all that you can be and enjoy your life as much as you can. In the end, how we are remembered is determined by our actions, and our interactions with the people that we meet along the way. Make your time count.


Q. Dear Michael,

I am a sixth form science student and I would like to know your views about your artistic career? How did you know that your work was good enough? I like to draw but I don’t think that I am good enough! Is there any advice that you can give about schools or contests I can enter? Yours truly, Sasha

A. Dear Sasha,

I was fortunate to have family support regarding my art career. It is something that I never regretted pursuing. Developing my talent has allowed me to become a more balanced individual. There are many careers that having an artistic background can enhance. Art is also a pure form of enjoyment and personal fulfilment. Every time I walk into a room and I see art on the wall I take the opportunity to look, decipher colours and brush work. If your school does not have an art programme, have no fear, you can learn

from books and going to art exhibitions. If there are others like you in your school maybe you can help change it and at the same time practice the art of persuasion. With practice you will develop confidence and your own style. I know Penta Paints sponsors an art competition every year so you can ask your form teacher to enquire for you.


Dedicated to the memory of Peter Waithe




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