Apr 23, 2017 News
“Education is very important. It’s something that nobody can take from you. But life isn’t education alone. You have to round it off with some kind of activity or hobby…There has to be a balance.”
By Suraj Narine
Our life is as interesting as we want it to be. We have a choice to either merely exist or to make
the most of our time here on this expertly crafted plane of existence.
This week’s ‘Special Person’ Amanda Richards, has chosen to carve her name on the many pillars that surround us. She has conquered and continues to conquer. She made headlines back in the 1970s and astonishingly, she still makes them today.
Despite her many achievements and varied contributions to Guyana, she chooses not to be in the limelight, although her myriad achievements warrant same.
She was born on November 18, 1965, in Georgetown, to William and Jean Lee – a lovely Robb Street couple. Both her parents worked at the Mayor and City Council (M&CC) of Georgetown where her father was in charge of the Promenade Gardens while her mother worked with the Health Department.
She fondly remembers William Lee as a “fairly strict” father who was “all bark but no bite”.
Her mother, who is still alive, was described as “cool”.
Richards has a younger brother, John Lee, who works at Demerara Bank.
Amanda recalls her childhood as action-packed. She was no ordinary child and maybe her busy youth was the necessary ingredient in transforming her into the remarkable woman she is today.
She was obsessed with swimming and took self-defence classes while still in elementary. The latter was insisted upon by her father who felt that as a female, she should learn to defend herself should the need arise.
The thing with Amanda Richards is that even at a young age, she was eager to learn new things. She remembers never backing down from a challenge.
“I never ran to (be comforted by) anybody, I would fight my own battles,” she said with a childish grin.
At the age of four, Richards took up swimming at the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) in Georgetown.
Although almost dying at her first attempt on the shallow end, she never gave up.
“I swallowed water once and after that, I just jumped back in and kept moving,” she recounted.
This is the approach that Richards has adopted in life. She feels that if one fails at something, they should keep trying and trying until they succeed.
“What led you to start swimming?” I asked.
“You have to know to swim,” she replied with a shrug of the shoulders.
“There are three things that you need to know in life – know how to swim; how to ride a bicycle; and how to drive a car. You need to know to do these things, because you don’t know when you’ll be in a position to resort to them,” Richards said.
She became the youngest YMCA five-star swimmer at the age of six and swam across the Demerara River at that tender age. She later conquered the Berbice River and the Leguan to Parika route.
She was deemed as a force to be reckoned with. The Guyana Graphic newspaper called her, “The Speed Machine”.
“Leguan to Parika was the hardest one, because when you jump in the water at Leguan, (and)
the waves spin you around, you have no idea which direction you’re heading. Luckily, we had guide boats, so when you head in the wrong direction, someone tells you, ‘hey you kinda heading to Trinidad and you have to turn back because you don’t have your passport.’”
Richards said she never paid attention to accolades, all she wanted to do was to excel; to be the best and to make her family proud. However, little did she know that she was setting the bar high for the many female athletes that came after her.
While she was dominating in athletics, Richards was also excelling at academics.
She noted the importance of ‘striking a balance’.
“Education is very important. It’s something that nobody can take from you. But life isn’t education alone. You have to round it off with some kind of activity or hobby…You need to check out the movies ever so often. It’s okay to have fun once in a while. There has to be a balance.”
Richards, who was attending St. Agnes Primary when she wrote the Common Entrance Examinations, secured the sixth position on the nation’s Top Ten list. She subsequently enrolled at the St. Rose’s High.
During this time, she was dominating at the local swimming competitions, and the same was happening when she went overseas.
Richards began representing Guyana nationally, further cementing her name as one of the country’s best female swimmers.
She hoisted the Golden Arrowhead at an Inter-Guiana Swim Meet in 1977.
Richards won a gold medal – one of the two she received during her impressive career. She also received three silver medals.
At the age of 13, she won the junior title at the Dolphin Speed Swim Club’s “Cross-the-River” swim meet from Vreed-en-Hoop to the Customs Boat House in Georgetown. Richards bested some 39 swimmers that day in 1978.
She reigned as Champion female swimmer until the age of 15 before deciding to “leave the scene”. She began focusing on her other extra-curricular activity – Karate.
“When adversity comes knocking, you need to show it who hits harder,” Richards asserted.
Our Special Person is a black belt and has studied with many outstanding local karatekas including the highly respected Grandmaster, Professor Stephen Monasingh who was instrumental in her realising her true potential.
“Karate helps build character. Studying Martial Arts is an effective way of developing self-discipline. The philosophies in the many traditional styles promote just that (self-discipline).”
After some years, Richards moved on to other things.
She starting working at the Royal Bank of Canada, which later became the National Bank of Industry and Commerce (NBIC). It was during her time there that she met her husband – Christopher Richards, who worked at the then Barclays PLC before it was renamed the Guyana Bank for Trade and Industry Limited (GBTI). Their union produced Christian who is now 16 years old, and who her mom describes as a Technical Wizard.
After eight years at NBIC, Richards resigned as Assistant Manager in Charge of the Savings Department, with an Associate of the Institute of Canadian Bankers (AICB) from the University of Toronto.
She left the bank before it transitioned in what we now know as Republic Bank.
Richards went on to Caribbean Resources Limited where she stayed for about three years, selling lumber.
“I left banking because the hours were too long…Too formal. I was tired of going home at 9 every night. Plus, the sawmill was close to home,” Richards said.
Richards then moved over to the Guyana Pharmaceutical Corporation where she spent a year before moving on to Farfan and Mendes Limited (FML). She has been at the FML for the past 23 years. She is now the Administrative Manager/Company Secretary.
“Working at the FML has been a blast,” Richards said. She described the company as a close-knit organisation where everyone is seen as family. The company will be celebrating its 50th anniversary this year.
Photography is one of Richards’ hobbies – more of an obsession from the looks of it.
She is regarded in Guyana as one of the best photographers around. Her work is featured mostly on social media sites including Flickr and Facebook.
How Richards got hooked on photography is a rather funny story…
Back in 2009, like any dedicated parent, Richards decided to help her son with his school assignment. He had to get pictures of wooden buildings in the City.
Richards said her first idea was to ‘Google’ pictures. However, she was not satisfied with the quality of the photographs. So with what she described as a ‘point and shoot’ camera, she and little Christian set out on their adventure to take “proper” pictures of wooden structures in the city.
“We took pictures of the Red House, all the wooden buildings we could find – the St. George’s Cathedral of course, and I put them up on Flickr which is the online photo-sharing site, so that other students could get better pictures to use,”
Christian stopped bringing home assignments of this nature but his mother never stopped shooting.
“Over the years the cameras got bigger and better and far more expensive…I began upgrading and I never stopped,”
Richards began immersing herself in photography. She started reading, watching videos on YouTube, trying to learn as much as she could about this newfound hobby.
Asked what the response has been like from her ‘fans’ Richards said, “Positive, I was at the Rodeo. I have 5,000 pictures I took last weekend. I don’t even know what I have. I’ve only looked through like the first 1,500″.
Richards has a way of explaining how much photography means to her. The way she went about conveying the passion she has for it was mesmerising. The angles she spoke about and the way she would sometimes put herself in precarious positions just to get the right shot.
The emotions; the feelings she wants to capture. It was something special.
“I like to capture what is happening. I’m not someone that likes to do the pose shots, so if you tell me you want a glamour shoot or a fashion shoot I probably won’t do that. I prefer to take the unguarded moments so I get the feel of what is going on…The true essence, the true picture – the real picture…Natural.”
Richards said that she would often attend events hosted by the Guyana Hindu Dharmic Sabha because she likes a challenge.
“Taking pictures at these events is a challenge, because the dancers move about very quickly and the varying lights, and of course, you’re not allowed to use flash ever at those shows, so to capture what is going on, requires some skill. I still have far to go, but every time I pick up my camera, I learn more. And that’s what drives me.
Sometimes I wish I could go back to when I first started – where I messed up a few times – and try to do it better, but I can’t”
Balancing it all
Apart from photography, Richards still swims. She is a regular face at the Aquatic Centre at Liliendaal.
Amazingly, with a full-time job, swimming, housewife duties and photography, Richards still has time for family.
“I have a schedule. You have to fit in everything. Obviously, my family is everything to me. They have to get that quality time, so I post up a schedule on where I have to be and we (family) work around it.”
She swims three nights a week for an hour and a half each night.
“During that time, I’m under water. I don’t do training, but if I see another swimmer there and I notice an obvious style problem, I work with them. I say, yuh got to raise your feet ah lil more budday…how you breathing suh? I try to help whenever I can,” Richards said.
Always willing to give of herself; no one would deny she’s special.
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