Ato Boldon, right, and Michael Phillips sign autographs for students of Ste Madeleine Secondary last Friday. The two athletes were there to speak to students as part of the Making a Difference School Tour Guardian in Education Project.
Photo: Tony Howell
By Leah Mathura-Dookhoo
One had a baby on the way at 18, the other struggled to make it in a junior secondary school, with murmurs all around the extended family on his gloomy future.
Its something which happens to many of us, but for retired Olympic medallist Ato Boldon and national cyclist and painter, Michael Phillips, it was adversity that caused them to make a U-turn and put them on the right track.
Their motivational talks at Ste Madeleine Secondary School last Friday were not planned this way. It was unease among the teenage students which spurred such detailed testimonies from Phillips and Boldon, unearthed by steupsing and an initial lack of enthusiasm from the student body.
The duo are part of the Making a Difference School Tour Guardian in Education Project, which has been taking them, along with Miss Universe 1998 Wendy Fitzwilliam, West Indies cricket captain Brian Lara and Olympic silver medallist George Bovell III, to schools throughout the country.
The five celebrities have been sharing their experiences in overcoming obstacles to achieve success with students, who will then be asked to submit essays on the discussion for a chance to win prizes.
Boldon revealed that he was still a child when he became a father at 18. Phillips said it was his cycling abilities which gave him the opportunity to attend his dream school, Queens Royal College, after writing the 14-plus exams at Mucurapo Junior Secondary.
Boldon, who had flown seven and a half hours from Los Angeles to T&T, seemed jet-lagged, but insisted he was there because he cared about the future of the countrys youths.
At the beginning of his motivational talk, he told them if they were not interested in what he had to say, or were too cool for the proceedings, they should leave.
With serious faces looking straight at him, Boldon talked about his pre-teen years and how devastated the divorce of his parents left him at ten.
Back then, he said, he made every excuse in the book over his behaviour and low grades at Fatima College, after leaving Newtown Boys RC.
He then pointed to a group of boys sitting in a slumped position as if they were not interested.
That group there was me...I understand fully, he said.
In other words, nothing that was going on was important enough for me to give it 30 per cent of my attention because I knew everything.
I knew I was going to leave here some day, go by my family in the (United) States, get a job...I pretty much had it figured out.
Most of you have it figured out...but you are totally wrong, cause life never happens in a straight line.
Boldon, who eventually went to live in the US, described himself as a resident alien, with no job and the frightening news that he had a daughter on the way.
I thought that was the end of me, he said.
But, he said it was adversity and the emotions of fatherhood that fuelled his yearning to become an Olympic star.
In 1992, the year his daughter was born, Boldon also won the World Junior Championships.
Here is where you need to pay attention, he said.
Every time you are faced with adversity, that is when you have your greatest chance to not only prove those around you wrong, but to show yourself what you are made of.
Both celebrities then warned students about getting caught up in the mega advertising campaign, which they said traded good values for sneakers, jewelry, clothes and cars.
Phillips, who is also a professional artist and Beacon Insurances corporate communications manager, said, That does not make you a man.
Phillips, who used painting as a source of income for funding himself in the cycling arena, based his talk on the choices young people had to make while building their dreams.
He said he was influenced by his mother, Louise Arjoon, and art teachers, and stunned students with some of his creations, adding that one of his paintings was sold for $22,000.
Looking at the faces of students in awe at the figure he had quoted, he said, And who would have thought a child from a junior sec would go so far?
Phillips also called on students in the packed hall to read between the lines of gimmickry and advertisements.
More than that, he said, it was up to individuals to choose friends who would assist them positively in their long-term goals.
Phillips advised students to know their worth.