My feet took me in a different direction last weekend. Tired of typing a well-beaten path, I walked across to Woodbrook and Mucurapo in search of fresh inspiration.
At Jean Pierre Complex, there were lots of busy feet. The final phase of the Guiness Street Football Challenge was taking place. You can substitute "small goal" for "street football". I was early on what was to be a long evening, so maybe that accounted for the surprisingly small crowd at the start.
For the second year running, the Guiness people put their name and their brand behind a competition that gives structure to a popular pastime for young Trinis. Fast-paced and played in a tight space, good speed and smart moves can make a man a star and a hero in the community.
Street Football gave many a stage on which to play; and they did, under fascinating names like "Skills That Kills," "Touches" and "Drifterz Answer Back," the eventual champions from Tobago.
The feet here produced football on the Jean Pierre outdoor court that contained some of the elements in those names. Moving left, then right, stopping, turning sharp, sharp, drifting in, then out of the play, the "street" feet produced some neat touches.
The goal is so small in this game, you have to manoeuvre very well to open up a chance on goal and then be very accurate to get the ball in the net because you have to pass, from what I saw, usually the biggest man on the side, guarding the net. The degree of difficulty makes the difference between winning and losing a matter of inches. The "Foundation" side found that out in their first game. The Rastaman striker for "Touches" was a "boom kick" fellow. But that technique did not get him anywhere. In contrast, the "Foundation" men, moving their feet to a more deliberate beat than eventual finalists, "Touches,"created the more dangerous chances, but they just could not find the net.
Ironically, it was "Ras" who beat them in a sudden death shootout. No goalkeeper allowed here as in big field football, you needed a softer touch to score. Ras eventually produced just that.
Up the Road at Woodbrook Youth Centre, a different group of younger people were using their feet for an entirely different purpose.
The 18th annual National Invitational Championships of the Trinidad and Tobago Gymnastics Federation (TTGF) were taking place. The movements here were more graceful, balletic. I was watching the artistic gymnastics competition after all. There was activity in all corners of the Centre. On the far side, young, female feet were sprinting down a runway and springing into the air in the vault routine. Another set were sprinting, rolling and tumbling on the floor; another group was swinging between uneven bars; while yet another set was stepping lightly, sometimes gingerly, but always with grace on the balance beam.
Each dismount was greeted by loud cheers, mostly from coaches, parents and siblings in the stands.
The voices were largely female; for in T&T as in most of the world, gymnastics is largely a female sport.
Current TTGF president Richard Lue Shue reckons just ten per cent of local gymnasts are male.
"This is a difficult sport to keep at a high level. It's physically demanding," he tells me.
"You won't see a lot of boys doing it in Trinidad, one, because we don't have all the apparatus in all the gyms. (Also), they have the same time as the girls (to study and train). There is a short span of time that all kids share. So if you have to do six events (boys) versus four events (girls), it's more difficult. And for boys, upper body strength is needed in four out of the six events...It takes a lot longer to develop the boys and a lot of boys don't stay in it; they go to football, cricket, basketball and things like that. To keep the boys interested is a challenge."
The boys can keep playing football on the street until they grow old. A man's bones won't allow him to keep twisting and bending and swinging without consequences much past his 20s. And in a small population as exists here, developing top quality gymnasts–whether male or female–is even more challenging.
Still, the TTGF–now 21 years in existence–was able to send William Albert and Thema Williams to the 2011 World Championships. And currently, Junior Elite athlete Marisa Dick–Canada-born of Trinidadian parents–is representing T&T at the Pan American Apparatus Championships in Medellin, Colombia.
Lue Shue, a former collegiate gymnast himself and coach, is "very happy" with such breakthroughs, and where the sport here is at generally.
"It's growing numbers-wise and you can see a difference in the children when they compete. Since I've been president, each year we've had a coaching course come through Trinidad," he says.
The president is especially proud of Williams because she, unlike Dick and the USA-based Albert, "for the most part" is locally based.
"Even to get her to the level of an elite athlete in Trinidad is a feat by itself."
Albert was present at the Youth Centre however. Currently in his off-season, he gave an exhibition for the audience. Small in stature, the 20-year-old who migrated to Canada when he was two, still has the impressive build that comes from working the pommel horse, high bars and rings.
Watching him up high on those rings–his favourite–I went tripping back 28 years to the Olympics in Los Angeles. Performers like Japanese all-around gold medallist Koji Gushiken, Peter Vidmar from the USA and China's Li Ning, along with American sweetheart Mary Lou Retton made gymnastics come alive for me. In particular, I remember the unfancied Gushiken, powerful shoulders and all, up on those rings. It has always amazed me how a man can keep such control suspended up high.
What does one think about when up there?
"Don't fall," Albert chuckles. "The name of the game when it comes to gymnastics is consistency...During competition I just try and think about keeping good form, presenting, showing off the skills that I have and making it look as nice as I can."
Albert has been holding a rhythm since he was a toddler at home.
"When I was really young," he relates, "I used to be watching TV, doing hand stands and flipping off the couches, so after a while, my parents just decided, just put him in gymnastics and see what he can do. I liked it and the coaches said I was pretty good at it, so I kept on with it from there."
A dislocated knee kept Albert from actually competing at the World Championships last year. But having made the all-around finals at both the Pan Am Championships and 2010 Commonwealth Games in Delhi, India, Williams' hands and feet have already taken him far.
"I like the excitement and performing, and the thrill that you get from doing new moves. It's a real adrenaline rush."
His are certainly "happy" feet.