Monday, August 22, 2016

Levern Spencer - More Than Meets The Eye

Perhaps the performance of Levern Spencer as a finalist in the Women's High Jump at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro is less about sports and more about so many other things - so many things that many Saint Lucians have never even thought about.

Undoubtedly, this fine young woman from Cacoa, Babonneau has inspired Saint Lucians from far and wide, for many years, with her constantly improving ability in the high jump, proving to be a beacon of hope to many aspiring athletes. A win in Rio could have been the much needed shot-in-the-arm (or more likely kick-in-the-ass) which Saint Lucia sports has needed for so many years. With her limited resources Levern has been able to do what others with millions of dollars and impressive sports programs at their disposal were unable to do. Slowly but surely she has caught our attention giving hints of her impressive determination and stamina since she took up competitive high jumping in 1999.

Saint Lucian sportswoman of the year more times than any other woman in our history has not affected her humility. Unlike so many others who have had fame go to their head she has remained true only to her island and sport. The name Levern Spencer has remained synonymous with the high jump sport in Saint Lucia just as Breeze is to laundry detergent.

Levern has an impressive roster of appearances on behalf of Saint Lucia taking her to countries around the world since her debut in 1999 - See below listings:

Levern Spencer stats
Despite the obvious hard work, dedication, and much sacrifice, Levern has continued to fly the Saint Lucia flag higher and higher wherever she competed. We have all felt proud of her achievements, and this time around news that she had qualified for the Olympic finals in the Women's High Jump in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil had us all salivating at the prospects of a medal - any medal would have been good enough, damnit!

Levern Spencer - London 2012 Olympic Games

And to top it all off Levern Spencer, Saint Lucian extraordinaire, was the only Caribbean woman to have qualified among the 17 women finalists from around the world. So, not only was she jumping for Saint Lucia, symbolically she was jumping for the region. If that is not an achievement in itself then I don't know what is. To qualify to compete in the Olympics is an achievement in itself and means the participant is of exceptional ability which obviously came after many years of hard work and dedication.

As is evident from the chart above Levern's progress over the years have been consistent and on par with other prominent high jumpers from around the world; her awards and accolades speak volumes about her ability.

Just as with other successful athletes her accomplishments and now qualification for the 2016 Olympics has caused many people to live vicariously through her sporting ability. Her every action translates into an emotion for them as they armchair quarterback every jump she makes; it's almost natural. There is a lot of emotion invested in Levern this time around.It was as if Saint Lucians were hungry of something to cheer about. Darren Sammy was in the rear view mirror after his astounding success earlier this year and we were all pissed at the manner in which he has been treated by the West Indies Cricket Board (WICB). Lucians needed a break, a soulagement from the bickering of cricket and the recently concluded general elections. Deliver us Levern!

Leading up to her Olympic appearance the expected hype and publicity we see so much of on our cable TV systems and  the Internet for athletes elsewhere were sorely lacking. On the day of Levern's date with destiny any mention of her on our radio and TV stations was few and far between, if ever at all. At 6PM on one such station that I tuned into from the Internet there was no mention of her in the headlines or at any point until the end of that broadcast at 6:30 PM - a mere hour before her event. It was worse than trying to listen to a sports program on my father's Gram in the old days.

My father's Gram

Fast forward a few jumps and Levern is eliminated, much to the chagrin of some supporters. "How dare she get this far and not win a medal?" - so screamed some comments on social media and elsewhere. "How the hell could she run under the damn pole?" and other vexed comments followed in short order. You could swear some of these people had lent Levern their legs or other body parts and were expecting a payback on their investment. Notwithstanding all the support and subsequent anguish it is understandable the loss that all of us felt when no precious metal medal materialized.

Denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance (the five stages of grief) quickly manifested itself among those who were struck hard by unforgiving Olympics results.

But lets not be too hard on Levern. For sure she was out there almost all alone, this is the plight of poor athletes and the nations they represent. Unlike the U.S.A. or any of the other major contenders, our girl had no doctor, or dietician; no masseuse or strategist; almost none of anything the other sixteen contenders had at their disposal. With all the other Saint Lucian athletes knocked out of their competitions Levern was almost certainly all alone. Alone to bear the weight of her country's expectations, and of course the region as well.

Imagine those of you at home feeling nervous, and some, even afraid to watch as she was about to perform - now imagine how Levern felt out there on that field.

With all the harsh comments made in the aftermath of her performance I wonder whether these individuals would have been so merciless and terse had it been their own daughter. Nothing is guaranteed in any competition; the best athlete yesterday could simply be having a bad day today.

We seem to forget that athletic competition is not only about the physical aspect of the sport. Psychological support is an often forgotten and elusive part of competition in our island. It is not only about winning a medal or a prize. Complaints of NBC's coverage which highlighted primarily U.S. athletes, even when they lost, is a form of support for their own. Radio coverage and other public acknowledgement does wonders for the mental resolve of competitors. If you doubt this ask yourself what a home court advantage is all about.

The benefits of sports go beyond the physical and enter the realm of the psyche of our country. Sadly, many do not realize the effects of inspiration to others and the opportunity to keep our children occupied and away from the clutches of crime, drugs, and gangs. An hour or more spent on training is time away from these negative influences. Athletes who perform and inspire our children make a very positive contribution to our future.

Levern Spencer is a winner as she has single handedly inspired many young boys and girls in our midst. She has given us hope and pride that we, even with our extremely limited resources, could rank with the best in the world. And ranking 6th in the final count is a remarkable achievement. Her performance was not mediocre - meeting the stringent requirement to enter the Olympics was an accomplishment of grand proportions.

Even after her Olympic defeat Levern was still gracious and an example to all - Something we need so badly nowadays.  Bravo. Bravo. Bravo

Thank you Levern for putting Saint Lucia on the map
Thank you for all the years of hard work which you endured carrying our flag
Thank you for your personal sacrifices
Thank you for not selling our flag and flying someone else's as I'm sure offers were made to you
Thank you for being a true and unrelenting daughter of the soil

Wheresoever you may roam,
Love oh love, our island home.