Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Striking the right balance

Evening the scale between swimming and academics

 This is the first of three features the Trinidad Express sports desk is doing on three of the best local junior swimmers. They all highlight the three qualifiers to the 2014 Youth Olympics in Nanjing, China to be held on the Asian continent from August 16-28. Features on David Mc Leod and Kristin Julien will follow.

Mark Pouchet

For Jabari Baptiste, the importance between doing well in the classroom and excelling in the pool is narrowing. Prior to 2013, Baptiste,  a fifth form Fatima College admitted that his focus was too centred on his swimming feats.

The 17-year-old’s swimming results reflect that attention to detail in the pool- he is a multiple Carifta champion and record holder in both the 11-12 and 13-14 age groups, he also won many titles in those age-groups at the Caribbean Islands Swimming Championships (CISC) and CCCAN.

But his performance inside the halls of Fatima took a blow. “In the past years I have been really focussing more on swimming and my academics started to take a bit of a hit so I am now in this past year and a half trying to boost my grades so that I do really well in CXC, so that even if something was to happen later in my life, I will still have an education to fall back on. ‘’But I wouldn’t give up on swimming completely, too, because the sport keeps you fit, keeps you on top of your game, and it is  just going to make you a better student, so I would never give it up,” he said. Ironically, the renewed focus on academics has meant a new adjusted pool programme emphasising more quality and speed oriented workouts.

“My training has stepped back a bit because I am studying for CXC, but I am trying to manage between education and my athletics and I am using basically whatever I can do based on the   training I am doing now because there is so much more training I can do.

‘’(But) however I progress even if it is by a millisecond I am just taking that as a motivator in training and  pushing to go a little bit faster and faster, and every meet that I swim that I am a little bit closer to the qualifiers (for Youth Olympics). That’s all I want to do,” he said.

Baptiste is understating his improvement of course. In the 100m fly event where he attained a Youth Olympics B qualifying time at the Amateur Swimming Association of Trinidad and Tobago (ASATT) National Age Group Long Course Swimming Championships last month, he dropped over three seconds from his prior to 2013 personal best. He has qualified in six events-(50, 100m free, 50, 100m back and 50, 100m butterfly). “It’s been a rough ride,” explaining his schedule of school, lessons, gym training and swimming sessions that are squeezed into six days of his week. “But I wouldn’t let that keep me from swimming altogether. I am not going to be one of those people who depends solely on my athletics or who solely depends on academics. I want to be able to do both equally, but if one falters more than the other then I have to lean towards that one,” Baptiste said.

Baptiste jets out tomorrow in a 33-strong T&T Carifta team to Aruba where he will be looking to improve on qualifying times for Nanjing and getting close to Central American and Caribbean (CAC) Games standards as a priority as he helps T&T out in the regional games adding: “I feel comfortable in  training where I am at right now.”

But what makes Baptiste sure that he will continue in the pool for a long time after this year, “is the love for the sport.” “Ever since I was really young I enjoyed the water, enjoyed being in it, being surrounded by it. It is more like home for me. It is comfortable. I feel more relaxed. 

‘’Everything in the water is so much easier and besides that love and passion, I really have that competitive drive that makes training and racing that much better for me. I can race myself in training, against the clock, do  whatever it takes to be better,”  he said.

Baptiste also sees the health benefits to his swimming and being a physically active person in a sport many consider the best overall conditioner for the body as a bonus. Besides that he has enough example in a personal idol  to continue striving for his best at school, in the pool and at life.

“Definitely George Bovell is one of my biggest inspirations. He has done so much in his lifetime, he started when he was older than I was when I started and he is still swimming. So why should I quit  when he is 30 and is still swimming and still one of the greatest swimmers in the world and still top ranked in the world and he is getting better with age. 

‘’He really inspires me that  swimming doesn’t have to end young so I can go on and continue and get better,” Baptiste said, adding that Bovell had told him once to focus on the details to improve. But Baptiste also holds USA swimming stars Ryan Lochte and Michael Phelps and Jamaican sprint king Usain Bolt in high esteem.

“I like to observe them and see what keeps them ticking and what makes them the best in the world because that’s what i want to do,” he said. And Baptiste will do it once the top age-group swimmer tackles his academic goals first.