The man known as “The Beast” in the athletics world fits the bill in more ways than one.
Yohan Blake is focused in training, pushing his body to the limit on the track and in the weights room.
Granted a rare opportunity to view Blake and his Racers Track Club teammates during a workout at the University of the West Indies Mona campus in Jamaica, I saw a man determined to be the best he can be. That it was actually a light training day was not evident based on Blake’s approach.
“All of the athletes really look up to me and look to the work ethic that I have. All of them want to work with me because coming back from injury a lot of persons in training said ‘Blake how yuh do it? Yuh come back and you’re the strongest right now.’ Even the coach (Glen Mills) calls me to talk to the youths. They rather listen to me because of the standard that I set in training and the work regime.”
In the gym, Blake’s colourful socks bearing the name of one of his sponsors, regional communications company LIME could be a distraction for onlookers. The 24-year-old sprint star, however, is fully focused as he presses 540 pounds with one leg.
But cricket is on television, and as focused as he is during each exercise he glances at the screen in between sets as West Indies whip Bangladesh in a World T20 Group two fixture.
“A screamer dat!” Blake exclaims as Dwayne Bravo takes a superb diving catch at point.
Blake is a cricket fanatic, and plays the game as well.
It is sprinting, however, that has made the 2011 100 metres world champion into a household name. The Montego Bay sprinter is the joint second fastest man in history—with American Tyson Gay—at 9.69 seconds. Only Blake’s training partner and fellow-Jamaican Usain Bolt, the world record holder at 9.58, has gone faster.
Blake is a fierce competitor, and has the image to go with his on-track persona. Yohan Blake’s fingernails become the claws of “The Beast”.
“When it’s close to race time I grow my nails. In Europe they love the style of The Beast.”
His choice of entertainment is in keeping with his image.
“I love horror movies. Every night I watch a horror before bed.”
But there’s another side to Blake. Behind the beastly exterior is a heart of gold.
“Growing up it was really tough for me. I always say to my mum I want to make it better, to help the kids. I’ve been to some places in Jamaica and it’s really sad. It makes me cry when I see how much kids are suffering, and they have a lot of talent. These are some of the kids that have been abused, neglected, left on the road, and people find them.”
In response to the many needs in Jamaica, Blake has established the YB Afraid Foundation (www.ybafraid.com/foundation).
It’s Sunday morning, and we’re driving behind Blake’s manager, Cubie Seegobin. He’s showing us the way to Mandeville and the Mount Olivet Boys’ Home, a beneficiary of the foundation. Blake joins the convoy for the last leg of the trip, and is accompanied by his girlfriend as well as chairman of the YB Afraid Foundation, Timothy Spencer.
There is an air of excitement when Blake arrives. Not only is he a benefactor to the 26 boys at the home, aged seven to 18, but he is also a friend and mentor. They rush to meet “The Beast”, joining him on the small goal football field, a playing area that has been outfitted with an artificial turf, one of the many contributions Blake has made to improve their quality of life.
Blake takes us on a tour of the home, and his work is evident. The computer room/library is well put together, a clear sign that education is a priority.
“Growing up, I didn’t believe in standing up and teaching. Why can’t we do E-learning, put learning in music, put learning on TV? We’re trying to be the first in Jamaica to do all of this. This is our little secret,” Blake continues, dropping his voice. “We’re bringing a programme to the kids, learning from music.”
Sonia Lowe, Director of Mount Olivet Boys’ Home, appreciates Blake.
“Many people talk the talk but they do not walk the walk, and they make promises. Our children here have already been abused, mistreated, abandoned. Yohan is a young man that has put his heart into his foundation. lt’s not about tax deduction or writing a cheque to somebody, it’s about a relationship with his boys. And I know he will go onto other projects and he will work in the same way as he has with Mount Olivet.”
Blake is keen to make a difference in his own community, and will soon be doing similar work at a home in Montego Bay.
Back in Kingston, Blake is meeting needs on a daily basis.
“Every day I talk to kids by UWI that want something. They come to my car and ask for a $50. I talk to them. That same person I give the 50 could turn out to be the fastest man in the world or the next prime minister. I was that type of person growing up because I didn’t have money to go to school, and that’s what I had to do, so I just encourage them and tell them my past. Every day I get emotional, because every day they come to my window.”
But for Blake, the response is not only emotional.
“Don’t be afraid to help someone. You don’t need to be afraid to give.”
EDITOR’S NOTE: Trinidad Express writer Kwame Laurence is among a select group of sports journalists chosen to be part of the latest IAAF Day in the Life series, a project featuring some of the Caribbean’s best athletes as well as other major players in the sport of track and field. Next Friday, up close and personal with the fastest woman in the world.