"I feel good. I really worked hard last year. It was a good feeling coming up on this stage today."
Those were the words from Machel Cedenio after collecting the First Citizens Sports Foundation (FCSF) Youth Awards Male Athlete of the Year title on Friday night at Hyatt Regency Hotel in Port of Spain.
The 17-year-old quarter-miler got the nod from among four male finalists and shared the night with Female Athlete of the Year, cyclist Jodi Goodridge, whose dad Peter collected the award in her absence.
After presenter James Saunders dangled the crowd in suspense before announcing those two athletes, Cedenio described the win as a "wonderful" feeling.
"I wasn't expecting it because it had a lot of athletes who did good throughout the year, so I just pray and work hard, and I guess I deserve it."
The runner already has his sights on a consistent place in the T&T senior athletics squad, and is targeting the 2013 World Championships.
"My next step is to work harder than last year, break my pb (personal best), make more national teams. I'm aiming for the world games in Russia; hopefully I could make the 4x400 metres team. That's my goal for this year."
Goodridge, who brought home Pan American Junior Championship 500 metres time trial bronze and team sprint gold alongside cousin Aziza Browne in her last year as a junior, edged five other strong contenders for the women's prize.
The other top ten qualifiers were cricketer Jeremy Solozano, who is currently with a schoolboys team touring India, sailor Kelly-Ann Arrindell, swimmers Kimberlee John-Williams and Dylan Carter, Charlotte Knaggs (squash), Jelani Davidson (tennis), Chelsea James (athletics), and Kate Gordon (karate).
Giving the feature speech was T&T sprinter Ayanna Hutchinson--a three-time Olympian (2000, 2004, 2008).
Hutchinson did not disappoint. She related her journey from young school upstart to US collegian, and told the youngsters that her journey had its fair share of obstacles as well as success. The seasoned athlete said she heard many discouraging words, but continued to persevere.
Hutchinson also had some advice for parents.
"Parents, do not underestimate what your support and encouragement means to your children."
To the athletes, she said: "Do not be afraid to fail; it just makes your success that much sweeter. You should always be your (own) biggest supporter and biggest motivator."
In his greeting, FCSF committee chairman Dr Keith Clifford described 2012 as an "exciting year for sport" in T&T, and said the committee is convinced the future of sport in T&T is assured.
But he warned the athletes: "Your arrival at this juncture cannot and must not be the apex of your journey; rather, let it be a springboard to a bigger and brighter future. Never forget your country is depending on you."
A number of Special Olympics athletes were also honoured for their performances in 2012, receiving medals from some of T&T's top athletes, including Jehue Gordon, Njisane Phillip, George Bovell, Cleopatra Borel and 2012 men's javelin Olympic gold medallist Keshorn Walcott.
None beamed brighter than equestrian rider Giselle Benjamin when she received her medal from Bovell, while powerlifter Malachi Sylvester also had the crowd chuckling as he hugged Bovell with one arm, and made a peace sign with the other hand.
Students from Standard Four and Standard Five were also awarded for their contributions to the sportsmanship essay competition, with Taran Persad copping a special award for taking the idea of sportsmanship off the field of play.
Youth Athletes of the Year
Machel Cedenio (male); Jodi Goodridge
Top 10 Youth Athletes of the Year
Jeremy Solozano (cricket); Jodi Goodridge
(cycling); Kate Gordon (karate); Kelly-Ann Arrindell (sailing); Charlotte Knaggs (squash); Kimberlee John-Williams, Dylan Carter (swimming); Jelani Davidson (tennis); Chelsea James, Machel Cedenio (athletics)
Youth Athletes of the Year nominees
Male: Machel Cedenio (athletics), Matthaus Wilford (badminton), Sherlon Pierre (canoe/kayak), Joshua Johnson (chess), Jeremy Solozano (cricket), Justin Roberts (cycling), Brendon Creed (football), Matthew Marquez (golf), Michael O'Connor (hockey), Dillon Khelawan (horse racing), Jyri Spicer (karate), Sanjay Teelucksingh (powerlifting), Ross Navarro (rugby), Dylan Carter (swimming), Arun Roopnarine (table tennis), Jelani Davidson (tennis), James Amow (triathlon)
Female: Chelsea James (athletics), Kristi Reno Singh (badminton), Kerchelle Hinkson (canoe/kayak), Javanna Smith (chess), Jodi Goodridge (cycling), Victoria Swift (football), Marisa Dick (gymnastics), Brianna Mari Govia (hockey), Kate Gordon (karate), Shanntol Ince (Paralympics), Kelly Ann Arrindell (sailing), Charlotte Marie Knaggs (squash), Kimberlee John-Williams (swimming), Brittany Joseph (table tennis), Breana Stampfli (tennis), Renee Chin Lee (triathlon).
Top Special Olympics Athletes
Kevon Rampersad (athletics); Makeeba Baptiste (aquatics); Michael Le Maitre (basketball); Renne Messiah (bocce); Giselle Benjamin (equestrian); Dane Pitt (football); Learrie Buchan (floor hockey); Damien Marquis (powerlifting); Malachi Sylvester (powerlifting)
Sportsmanship Essay Competition
Renee Frederick (Moulton Hall Methodist Primary); Nirvana Maharaj (San Fernando TML); Farhaanah Mohammed (San Fernando TML); Stephanie Rampersad (Bien Venue Presbyterian); Le-An Anya Telesford (Montrose Government Primary)
Rondell Johnson (Tunapuna Boys RC); Javed E Mohammed (Montrose Government); Vineeta Puja Ramdhanie (Chaguanas Government); Mecheal Samaroo (Madras Government); Atiya Williams (Madras Government); special award—Taran Persad (Montrose Government)