Dec 11, 2011 News
Pull Quote: “The last few years of my career, I’ve felt a sense of responsibility to younger athletes, and that also pushes me. I think track and field in Guyana will be developed to levels comparable to the USA or Jamaica, but someone has to blaze a trail. My motivation is to set a standard so high that the Guyanese who betters that will be on top worldwide.”
By Edison Jefford
She had long cultivated the essentials of success. Her innovative methods of creating a solid life and healthy
future, on and off the track, leaves much for imitation in a generation that constantly needs to be reminded that Guyana has produced role models.
From childhood, she had an affiliation to academia, which, as she puts it, ranged from being her personal librarian aback of her yard at Bee Hive on the East Coast of Demerara where she grew up, to later enrolling at Manhattan College where her career as a distinguished Guyanese student-athlete was really initiated.
Today we feature the outstanding Aliann Tabitha Omalara Pompey as our ‘Special Person’. She is the only Guyanese athlete in any sport with two Commonwealth Games medals after her silver medal performance in New Delhi, India last year, which followed a gold medal she had won eight years earlier in Manchester, England.
Those feats, along with her stellar representation for Guyana over the years, were enough to land her a national accolade – The Medal of Service.
Aliann’s first taste of international recognition came in 2002 when she won a Commonwealth Games gold medal in the 400 metres. She was awarded Guyana’s ‘Sportswoman of the Year’ for her dazzling performance at what is considered a blue-ribbon competition.
It was timely success for someone who had become the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) champion over 400m at the end of college.
“I was a little shocked at how quickly I was improving,” Pompey said. She easily became one of Guyana’s premier athletes.
One year after her 2002 Commonwealth success, she went on to capture bronze at the Pan American Games in the Dominican Republic, making her a favourite to do well at the Olympic Games in Athens, Greece, the following year. She continued a campaign to get Guyana the only medal in track and field that has eluded its coffers from time immemorial.
Aliann has been to three Olympics thus far, including Sydney in 2000, Athens in 2004 and the Beijing Games in 2008. She has also competed at five IAAF World Championships dating from 2001-2009 and four IAAF World Indoor Championships, in a marathon career.
At the 2010 World Indoor Championships, in Doha, Qatar, she placed fifth in the 400m in a time of 52.75 seconds, earning her a fifth place ranking in the world, which she went on to credit with her silver medal performance at the Commonwealth Games in India.
Pompey is expected to represent Guyana at the 2012 Olympic Games in London, England, and it was interesting to find out what still motivates this athlete. The question was put to her and an interestingly candid response followed. It was enlightening.
“I am not satisfied with my career so far, that’s why I’m still going. I get motivated by feeling. I don’t know how else to describe it. If something makes me happy for whatever reason, I want to do it. I’ve accomplished a lot as a ‘by-product’ of looking for happiness,” she said, inadvertently stating that competing at the highest levels makes her happy.
“Looking good, feeling healthy, travelling and competing is what I want to do. Running presents me with the opportunities to travel to places I may not otherwise have the opportunity to visit. It allows me to compete at the highest level with the best in the world; all of this makes me happy,” Pompey, Guyana’s most successful track athlete indicated.
“I’ve become a fairly successful athlete, a role model, and a spokesperson for Guyana simply by trying to be the best of me I can be. After a while, my coach realised how personal athletics was to me,” she continued, adding that her coach stopped reminding her about her performances and rather opted to question whether or not those performances made her happy.
Aliann was born on March 9, 1978. She recalled her childhood days and how she had begun to build a solid foundation to ensure her success as an adult. Surprisingly, those days in Guyana had nothing much to do with athletics, but a proclivity for books.
“When I was a student at Bush Lot Secondary… the librarian took away my privileges because I took out some books and returned them about two days later. She wouldn’t let me sign out with them anymore because she didn’t think I was reading them,” Pompey recounted.
“Some time after that, I started my own library. I built shelves in our backyard, I made up library cards, and I would lend out books to anyone in the neighbourhood, who wanted to borrow them.”
The self-confessed bibliophile said that she closed her library when books went missing because members chose not to return them. Pompey informed that her backyard library has since become a uniformed and established wall at her home in the United States.
Her favourite book remains Chinua Achebe’s classic “Things Fall Apart” and though her affinity for books did not influence her final course of study in her becoming a librarian, her aspiration to academia was notable since she had the aptitude to open her own ‘makeshift’ library at just about 11 years old.
The now world renowned 400m sprinter did not have a schools’ athletic career prior to departing Guyana. She indicated that she was much more focused on being the leading student in her classroom rather than focused on track and field.
“I played games fairly often, but I did not run for the school (Bush Lot Secondary). My sister was much better at that and I found that it (running in school) took me away from my reading… I did race a few times at Inter-House, but I never won,” she recalled, adding that she thought she would have became a “big-time librarian”.
But that dream evaporated with migration to the US. Aliann left Guyana when she was about 13 years old and life in the ‘Big Apple’ took her down a different academic and social course. She explained that she was not immediately prepared for her orientation as an immigrant, which affected her emotionally.
“I think the hardest part was a timing thing. At 13/14 years, you are at that age where your peers play a big part in your life. Being able to relate to people around you is huge for your self-esteem at that time. I was faced with people not understanding my accent, being bored in school because I’d done much of the work before, missing my friends and family etc.,” she reflected.
However, her father, Leon Eric, who obviously had more experience being a foreigner, mentored Aliann in her pre-teens. She related that her father was principally responsible for strengthening her identity and restoring some amount of her confidence in the United States.
“I spent hours daydreaming, I brought my school books when I left Guyana and would read them every night. Daddy finally sat me down and explained to me that I have an opportunity that I am not taking much advantage of,” she said.
The prominent athlete is one of six children of Leon and Deborah, and she indicated that if there was any time of her transition from Guyana to the United States that she would undo, if there was an opportunity for her to relive the years, it would have been her High School period.
“High School in the US was the hardest thing to-date that I have ever experienced. If I was told I could go back in time to redo that part of my life, I would. I learnt a lot about life and people and most of it I learned the hard way. I had to deal with different levels of racism and sexism, which I just wasn’t prepared for,” Pompey expressed thoughtfully.
She battled through those tough years of High School and went on to Manhattan College where she received her Bachelor’s and Master’s Degrees in Finance. Those successes reflected an authentic effort to make the most of her adolescence and young adulthood.
However, her introduction to athletics was quite an interesting one. Track and Field was not her first exposure to sports, neither was the process ad hoc; athletics came like a sort of ‘by-product’ from a previous vocation in High School, which happened to be, interestingly, Field Hockey.
“My gym teacher saw me run and since she was the field hockey coach, she put me on the team. I did that for half of the season, the season was almost over when I joined. I didn’t do track until the end of High School,” she recalled, adding that she improved rapidly after taking track as one of the means to pay for her education at Manhattan College.
Pompey revealed that her primary motivation on the track in College was the fact that she could train and compete, while being qualified. She explained that once she had locked her psyche into accomplishing a specific task, the devotion followed and so did the success. She said that the proliferation of her athletic career was not easy without major funding.
“Ever since I graduated from college, I’ve worked while competing. It has gotten much harder as I’ve gotten older, but I felt that it had to be done, so I just found a way; immediately after college my focus was still just running. I was determined to win at Worlds (IAAF World Championships) and win the Olympics. That’s it. Those were my dreams,” she informed.
“I just had to find a way to fund those dreams. I exhausted all avenues. I worked jobs just to put that money back into training and competing. I thought all I had to do was make a major final on the global scene and money would come rolling in and it would all be worth it, but things played out a bit differently,” Pompey continued.
She noted that because things did not work out exactly as planned – as it related to her athletic career – it became more obvious that she needed to start thinking about her life after competing. With those thoughts, Pompey met former Olympic Champion, Derrick Adkins, who was the then Director of Track and Field at the Armory Foundation.
Adkins encouraged Pompey to work with the Armory Foundation’s Armory College Preparatory Programme. The Programme provides free college, financial aid counseling and college entrance examination preparation classes to all track and field athletes in New York.
Pompey worked with Armory Foundation’s Preparatory Programme before her promotion to the Assistant Director of Educational Services post. The athlete also has an administrative role as the Development Manager at PowerPlay, ensuring that she has a career after competing.
Aliann’s burning desire is to see her trendsetting pave a way for holistic development of the sport and Guyanese athletes alike.
“The last few years of my career, I’ve felt a sense of responsibility to younger athletes, and that also pushes me. I think track and field in Guyana will be developed to levels comparable to the USA or Jamaica, but someone has to blaze a trail. There has been me, James Wren-Gilkes, June Griffith and others. They’ve set the standard to be bettered. My motivation is to set a standard so high that the Guyanese who betters that will be on top worldwide,” she concluded.
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