I count it a privilege to have been assigned an interview with Trinidad and Tobago's Chef de Mission for the London Olympics 2012, Annette Knott, for she is a woman inimitable in her feats. Knott, the first female chef to have an athlete in the 2007 Pan American Games in Rio de Janeiro (Knott's son plays national hockey) and the first female chef in the history of the Trinidad and Tobago Olympic Committee to lead a team to the games, boasts an impressive and extensive profile. Indeed, this sportswoman who comes from Mount Irvine, Tobago, wears many hats; but, she wears each gracefully; and a career in sports seems to be her fate.
In fact, it could be said that sports is in her blood, for she comes from a family of mainly athletes. "Most of my family members are involved in sports. My father was a FIFA referee and was involved in the National Referees' Committee. My three brothers played football with my youngest brother now coaching children in the USA. My older brother, Alvin, has been heavily involved with national football and had a short stint himself with the national football team many moons ago…" A career in sports was inevitable for Knott. Her sisters (Knott is the middle child of six children) had been involved in the field of sports, for a while (they have since pursued other careers), in hockey to be exact, and her uncle, Knolly Henderson, had been president of the Trinidad and Tobago Olympic Committee for many years. For Knott, her career choice was a foregone conclusion.
"The first sport I played was cricket. We always played in the road when I was very young. I had no choice. With a family of two older sisters and two older brothers you were often called on to just hold the bat when there was a game and they were a player short. In the school holidays, we spent hours every day playing cricket: boys, girls, everyone," she recalled nostalgically. Yet, while cricket was the first sport that she had played, it would not be her ultimate niche in the sports world. Hockey is where she has settled.
She recalled that while there were not many opportunities to play international hockey when she was young, during high-school, at Holy Name Convent, she "played a school girls' series every two years against Jamaica." She continued, "I was selected as captain of the team on tour to Jamaica two years after my sister Hillary was selected captain. For both of us to have such an honour in an important role was no mean feat. I think that this inspired me to continue to play. Even when I went to England to study, I played hockey in temperatures below zero (in 1972, she enrolled at Westminster College to do a degree in Hotel Management. She completed her degree in 1976). Many times, I was the only crazy, passionate black player in any of the teams." Knott was recently here in Trinidad for the inaugural international Hockey's World League Round 1 hosted by the Trinidad and Tobago Hockey Board. As secretary of the Trinidad and Tobago Hockey Board, she was very much a part of the planning and organisation for the tournament. While she has been the secretary of the hockey board for the last three months, she has been a member of the board for over 10 years.
And since her early 20's, she has been a volunteer in sports as an administrator, coach and umpire. So when in 2007, she was appointed Chef de Mission for the Pan American Games in Rio de Janeiro, she was ready for the challenge. Significantly, as Chef de Mission for the Pan American Games team that year, she was the first female chef to have an athlete at the games, for her son plays hockey for the national hockey team, "the trick, of course, is that not many people knew at any tournament or game. I am not mummy, just the Chef de Mission."
Her position as Chef de Mission of the Olympic team for the London Olympics 2012, however, is the highlight of her sports career. "It was an honour to be selected to be the Chef de Mission for the London Olympics as it was the first time in the history of the Trinidad and Tobago Olympic Committee that a female led the team to the games. It was, also, great that we created history as the best Olympic team to date," she said. "I had, also, been the Chef de Mission at the Commonwealth Games in Delhi in 2012. I think after that experience, I was more than qualified to go to the Olympic Games in London," she concluded. Knott's reputation precedes her.
With a schedule like hers, one would think that a social life would be out of the question, for how does one manage the demands of a career like Knott's and still find time for a social life? Knott is married to David Knott, who she describes as her true supporter, editor and mentor. She stated that, "once you have the commitment and the passion, your faith in the Almighty helps you find the balance. You never do anything that you do not want to do and the priorities change over the years from when you are single to when you have a family and to this stage in your life when you have many more responsibilities. You sacrifice many things that are trivial in the scheme of things and focus on what is important: your family and the passion for your sport." I guess finding the right balance requires knowing what you want, knowing what your priorities are and having someone who is supportive.
Sounds like Knott is set for life? Not until she had acquired her post-graduate diploma in sport management and then her MSc in the same area. In January 2009, she returned to school, UWI this time, in the FIFA/CIES post-graduate diploma programme in sport management, which was a prerequisite to getting her MSc in sport management. In October 2012, she completed both programmes and all this was done while preparing for the Olympic Games.
Knott is a force to be reckoned with, and I have no doubt that she will remain so.
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