Trinidad and Tobago Olympic Committee (TTOC) president Brian Lewis battled two cramps and aching knees to finish his “walk the talk” mission when he crossed the finish line of the 26.2-mile Trinidad and Tobago International Marathon, yesterday.
Draped in the national flag and followed by an army of athletes, supporters and well-wishers, Lewis willed himself to complete a journey that started promptly at 3.30 a.m. yesterday at St Mary’s Junction, Freeport, and concluded almost seven hours later in the blazing sun in front Whitehall at the Queen’s Park Savannah.
The mission, to raise awareness of the #10gold24 Athlete Welfare and Preparation initiative, was complete. But it was anything but easy.
Lewis would say after the race: “I had to dig real deep. The pain from the cramps were so severe and after a while it actually felt that I had pulled my left hamstring in the last two miles. But quitting is not in my make up.”
Lewis would have been drawing on the memories of six marathons he had treked during his 20s and 30s. But Lewis, his knees and bones plundered by those same marathons and his sport of choice, the contact-filled rugby.
In the early morning darkness, Lewis embarked on his awareness trek with radio commentator Tony Lee,former CNC3 sports anchor Roger Sant, and top pistol shooter, Sgt Roger Daniel of the Trinidad and Tobago Defence Force— the only individual who would accompany Lewis the entire course.
The TTOC boss comfortably completed those initial miles, having prepared himself on a diet that included up to 16 mile walks to Maracas Bay.
Daniel, a T&T high performance athlete who won bronze at the CAC Games last November, was keeping Lewis up to his paces urging him to accelerate and go steady at set intervals, making sure the former rugby player was on target for his seven-hour goal time. “Get your arms into it,” Daniel would echo regularly.
At Munroe Road, Cunupia, Tony Lee had conceded way to TT Pro League CEO Dexter Skeene as Lewis chugged on in the darkness. Skeene gave way to former TTFA technical director Anton Corneal then, as dawn broke, to the ever chirpy Andre Baptiste, who gave regular radio reports by cellphone until the finish. A group of wrestlers donning “TTOC support” tee shirts had also joined.
At Mt Lambert, top T&T marathon swimmer Christian Marsden had inserted himself. A few minutes after was when Lewis started to experience his first difficulties. Even with supporters along the Eastern Main Road clapping and shouting their support, including a young girl who personally handed Lewis $84 for the Fund at a water stop in Champ Fleurs. the reality of dehydrating muscles descended on Lewis.
As Lewis and a growing entourage (his wife Sandra, parents of top junior swimmer Dylan Carter (Tracy and Everard) and school friend Anton La Fond) traversed San Juan, the accompanying WI Sports pick up tray turned into an impromptu stretcher as physio Roger Evelyn had to deep massage Lewis’ left hamstring in San Juan. “Whatever you do, make sure I am able to finish,” Lewis told the physio, Daniel and Baptiste.
Ten minutes after ingesting some salt, applying some sport rub and resuming his walk, Lewis was lying prostrate in the pick up again. But favouring that leg, Lewis still got up again and resumed the walk. As Lewis neared the 23-mile post, renowned flagman Joey Richardson had joined in on the South Quay stretch to Wrightson Road where Lewis recalled Marsden told him:”Mr Lewis, it takes two hands to clap. You are doing your part, we the athletes must do ours.”
The Lewis-led group proceeded to the 24-mile mark onto Ariapita Avenue then north to Cipriani Boulevard, past the 25-mile mark.
Lewis’ son, Aasan with his group of national 7s rugby team members, who had earlier completed the marathon, tacked back to join Lewis on the Queen’s Park West stretch to QRC. And on the final stretch to Whitehall, Richardson had started a chant “T&T, we want gold!” accompanied by the chorus of followers, all the way across the line.
“I am glad it (the walk) resonated so deeply with the public and it just goes to show there are still wonderful and tremendous people in this country who want to see the country progress,” Lewis said in a post-race interview. Lewis will be hoping the expressed goodwill converts into sustainable, tangible financial support, for T&T athletes in the coming years.