On Friday September 23, 2005, international sprinter and Olympic medallist Ato Boldon addressed Forms Four and Six students of Fyzabad Anglican Secondary School and Holy Faith Convent, Penal.
Photo: Sookdeo Baney
Why is it important that your reputation remains intact? Let me give you a good example. Many of you may have read in the newspaper some time ago about what was happening with many track and field athletes on the world stage, many of whom are Americans. Anyone knows who Marion Jones is? Marion Jones is one of the best female athletes in the world. What has she been in the news for? Doping. Do you know what doping is? In Trinidad, we say taking drugs.
It was announced that a lot of Marion Joness supporters and endorsers are separating and distancing themselves from the Marion Joness image. Why are they separating themselves from the Marion Joness image? Because her reputation was tarnished. I think the only sports that have more drugs than track and field are cycling and body building. So Im in a sport with a lot of drugs, and pressure to perform the best track times. Many people ask me, How is it you always resisted the temptation to go that route?
It is really very simple. I would have loved for every Trinidadian and Tobagonian walking the face of this earth to have four gold medals at this point and I would have loved to have done it. However, I would not have wanted to have those four gold medals right now, but have the eyes of the world thinking T&T is a place where its okay to cut corners. The reputation of myself and my country was a lot more important to me than any medal and cheating.
At the end of the day, all I have is my reputation which I have tried to guard as much as I could throughout my career, and it can now take me a lot further. The world record 100 meters is something that I was striving for, for a very long time. I look at the man who has it now and he has zero reputation. Why? He has already testified to a (US) grand jury that he has the world record but he cheated to get it, and therefore nothing that he has done before will be taken seriously. How does that apply to you?
You dont want at this age or in the future to have all the things that you have done, all the hard work you have put in, to be totally wiped away because you made a wrong decision. Or because you decided that your reputation was not important enough to guard above all else. Imagine if you passed every exam with a One, an A, or 100 per cent, and then when you decide to get your Masters or PhD, you want to cut a corner or cheat for an exam. How much credibility do you think would be given to all the work you have done prior to that exam? Not much.
They are going to look at you and say he wasnt ever any good. So, above all, guard your reputation. At what age do yo think it is okay to begin to dream? I do not think you are ever too young to begin to dream, and I certainly dont believe that you are too old to start to dream. You are never too old. But I said that to make this point. It is going to take from each one of you, a confidence, a drive and a sense of purpose if any of you are going to make your dream a reality. Now why is that?
If you look outside this school, this is not Hollywood. The nice clean ending that you get when you go to Movie Towne and to your movie theatres does not always happen. Some of the people you see on television that you think are overnight successes have been working for a long, long, long time behind the scenes before they got there. So let me tell you this. People are going to disappoint you. That is part of life. Some people are jealous of you and are determined to make sure they talk behind your back. I will be very honest with you when I tell you that even the people who you think are supposed to have your back, and the people who are supposed to be supportive of you are going to disappoint you.
It is not as if you are going to make the journey on your own. I am not saying that. But this is what I want you to understand and remember. The book I am currently
reading, by Mohammed Ali; Ill tell you one of the things that struck me the most. Mohammed Ali is probably one of the greatest sportsmen of all time, as an athlete. They asked him, Mohammed ,you couldnt possibly have thought that every time you fought you were going to win? He said, No. But I didnt let them know that. I never let anyone convince me of what I could or could not do. So when these people who you expect to support you, when these people get jealous of you, when these people talk behind your back and try to destroy your dream, discard your dream, the most important thing you are going to have is your drive and your confidence.
Thats the most important thing, I can tell you all about dreaming. Do not think for a second that when I went to the Boldon family and told them that despite their dream of me being an engineer, lawyer or whatever it is they had for me, I wanted to be an athlete. My family had it all laid out for me, because people have a tendency to see you how they want to see you in the future. They see you as having some height and being kind of tal. They think you should play basketball because that is their concept.
They dont care if you are seven feet tall and you want to be an artist. So when I went to my family and I said, My dream is I want to be in the Olympic Games. I want to be an athlete. I want to represent my country, most of my family thought I was being ridiculous. Track and field is not a job. Im here to tell you that I worked as hard in track and field as anybody else did in any other job. But back to my main point. Whatever you do, do not expect that everybody will support you and say yes when you lay out your great dream for them. It is not going to happen. Despite people disappointing you, you have to know this is what I want for myself, this is what Im passionate about.
You dont want to be 80 years old and say, You know what? I really wanted to get into medicine, but due to pressure from person X, Y, or Z, I went into something else and I spent the rest of my life being unhappy.
When you lay out your dreams, if you trust someone enough to lay out your dreams before them, be guarded. Let me see by a show of hands how many people want at the end of their life to say they have made a difference in their country. How many people want to say at the end of their lives that they have made a difference in their world?
Im saying this to you today, because I would like to see a change throughout our small island. For the most part, most of the adults, myself included, are so set in our ways that it is a lot harder for us to change. So, we have to depend on you to change things. Trinidad and Tobago can be a better place, not by building more skyscrapers or jails and more police and all of that, but it is going to come in the difference in your thinking.
We have to stop being an I, me, mine society. We have to start thinking about the other person just a little bit more every day. At the end of the day if you have four PhD's, all the certificates in the world, and you do nothing with it to help the generation coming after you, to help your fellow man, you have been a complete failure.
I believe that each of us is going to be judged on what we did for other people. I would love to say I have ten Olympic medals, but at the end of the day the medal is mostly for me. I would be so much happier if one of you, 10, 15 years from now, long after everyone forgot about what I said in your school, say: You know what? Ato came to me and shared what he felt with me, and I made up my mind that day that I was going to make sure to be the greatest I could be. And not only that, when Im walking through that door of greatness, I want to make sure I pull other people up along with me.