Loosing your ability to see must be one of the toughest challenges to overcome. Just imagine losing your sight in your early thirties like Carlos Greene.
Born and raised in Waterloo, Carapichaima, central Trinidad, where he resides with his family, 46-year-old Greene became blind in 2000, within the space of four months, due to acute glaucoma. Losing his sight and his subsequent determination to overcome his disability has led to Greene, a Humming Bird Silver Medal awardee, becoming a top paralympic athlete over the years.
Greene recently represented us at the Toronto Parapan Games where he missed medaling by a narrow margin (ten centimetres) in the shot put event since an injury prevented him from competing in his pet event—powerlifting, for which he has become well known on the world circuit.
When Greene became blind over 14 years ago, he found an emotional outlet through exercise (the gym in particular). It quickly became a form of therapy for him. He said that when he exercises, he is on a natural "high". His instructors at the gym encouraged him to enter a competition and he has never looked back since.
His wife of 21 years and his three daughters are a tremendous source of inspiration to him. He is adamant about showing his children and others that a disability is no excuse to not strive to be the best. He also believes that his discipline, his training, and his eventual success will be a source of inspiration for all.
Over the past nine years, he has competed and medalled at several regional and international competitions. At the majority of these competitions Carlos was the only blind competitor. Among the many places he has competed are Guatemala, New Zealand, Aruba, Florida, Delhi, Guyana, Puerto Rico, Cayman Islands, London and most recently, at the Parapan Games in Toronto.
Some of his gold medal performances: 2008 at the IBSA International Blind Sports Association/IPF World Powerlifting Championships, Miami, Florida, where he broke 11 world records to become the first powerlifter to win a gold medal for T&T in a World Championship Event; 2009, the IBSA International Blind Sports Association/IPF 2009 World Powerlifting Championships, Miami, Florida, breaking seven world records; 2011, North American Powerlifting Federation/International Powerlifting Federation (NAPF/IPF) Championships, Miami, Florida; 2013, 11th Annual North American Powerlifting Federation/International Powerlifting Federation (NAPF/IPF) Championships.
In 2007, 2008, 2009 and 2012, he was nominated for the “Sportsman of the Year” Award. Thus far, he is the Caribbean’s only blind professional powerlifter. In July 2012, Greene participated in the American track and field paralympic trial, where he won a Silver Medal in the shot put and Bronze Medal in the discus event. He is currently in training for the 2016 Paralympics Games, which will take place in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
Q: Tell us a bit more about yourself. For example, where did you grow up, your schooling, meeting your wife, your children/family?
A: Carlos Greene was born in a little sugar cane and fishing village called Waterloo. I have five brothers and two sisters. I spent my first few years with my grandparents. I have always been involved in sport from a young age, and I have always been involved in community work.
I went to Waterloo Presbyterian School and represented the school in football, cricket, volleyball and running. Then I went to Chaguanas Junior Secondary and continued to represent in football, cricket, running and table tennis. I graduated from Junior Secondary and I received an award for physical education.
Then I went to Carapichaima Senior Comprehensive, where I represented in football, badminton and running, and eventually captained the football team. I then spent two years at the Presto Presto Youth Camp where I studied tailoring and represented the camp in running and table tennis.I met my wife in October 1989, and we got married in August 1993. We have three beautiful children, Rebekah, Reanna and Renee. Reanna was just successful in her SEA exam and she passed for her first choice, Bishop Anstey High School, Port-of-Spain. I am so proud of her.
As a blind person, what are some of the challenges you face both in your daily life and in your sport?
As a blind person, especially living in T&T, it is hard because the physical infrastructure (eg sidewalks, no building codes) is not designed for us. Vendors in the street block walkways, sidewalk DJs make it impossible to hear when you walk the street, disrespect by the heads of the same sporting associations that we represent. I have appealed to the authorities and even spoken to those sidewalk DJs. I keep pushing and not accepting the limits that are placed on me. I do see some little glimpses of hope that can make a better future.
When and how did you come to be involved in the sport of powerlifting?
After joining the gym in January 2003, I remembered a young instructor by the name of Justin Joseph telling me, “Do you know how strong you are? I have seen men in here for years and have never see them move weights like you. You should compete in an upcoming powerlifting championship.”
He left only to return with the head instructor, Juan Carve, and my personal instructor, Kevin Da Costa, only to ask, "Would you think about competing?" My immediate response was, "I have nothing to lose." And the journey into the life of Carlos Greene, the strong man, began. I remember clearly 2004, 2005, there were no championships in T&T, then I heard of the North American Powerlifting Federation hosting a championship in Puerto Rico in 2006.
Immediately, I began to prepare for this championship. Then two months before the championship, I fell into an open manhole. The next three months was spent in bed, and thoughts of my powerlifting championship were dying. The moment I felt a bit better, I was in the gym. I missed the 2006 championship, but my heart was now set on the 2007 championship in Guatemala. In 2011, a new desire erupted in me to be the first blind person from the Caribbean to win a paralympic medal. By 2012, I was competing in the London 2012 Paralympic Games.
What are your most prized possessions: one tangible, one intangible?
Intangible is the human spirit. Many people always ask me how I overcame, and I cannot take much praise for it because I got that strength from something within that was built in from creator God. When parents talk to me, they say thank you for inspiring my son and making an impact on society. My tangible possessions are the numerous medals and awards and honors that were given to me as I represented T&T, and won at various events.
What advice would you give to someone contemplating a vocation/career such as yours?
Firstly, I would tell them do not look at the glamour that comes across on the TV. The life of the athlete is not easy, one bad move or one injury and it can all be over. I will never discourage a young person that is coming into sport. I would also tell them to add education as a tool, believe in yourself and work hard, and it will all be possible.
What are a couple of your most memorable performances?
My first two memorable performances were my first two major championships, Guatemala 2007 and Christchurch, New Zealand, 2007. I remember working hard to go to Guatemala and walking the streets and people asking me “Why are you here?” And when I told them, they said that it is impossible for me to compete as a blind man.
I remember in Guatemala, one Saturday evening, when my name and country was called. I walked out with the coach, he said to me that I am on my own now and my knees buckled. I called on all my strength as I walked under the bar, and as the judge said squat and I squat, the crowd erupted.
It was almost the same in New Zealand six months later. I did not win, I came second on both occasions. However, everyone said that I was the real winner. Everyone wanted photos with me, and I could not even get to the washroom because I was bombarded. The New Zealand power lifting federation said they have never seen someone impact an entire arena like that.
Powerlifting isn’t just about moving a heavy thing—it’s about understanding how your body works in relation to timing and momentum and inertia, and basically the physics of movement.
Tell us about that.
It is proven that when someone loses his sight, that coordination and direction also goes with it. Other than the dynamics to maintain a straight line with the weights, you have to train your body to stand erect and focus on that invisible line, it takes a lot of practice and determination and courage. Many people attempted to do the squat with their eyes closed and they were all unsuccessful for many different reason. I remember one coach saying he took the shot put and closed his eyes, and he couldn’t think of what was the next thing to do.
Tell us about your inspiration to do what you do so well.
Each person is born with specific gifts and talents and that is who or what makes you who you are. To me, it just comes naturally. When it all happened, I still can’t fully answer. I remember the first time I was asked to do powerlifting and I accepted the challenge, and I looked for someone to coach me with the shot put for five years, and then Lester Osuna answered the challenge.
Also, I had a dream from childhood to be a motivational speaker, and for many years, I did not have the courage to stand on a stage and face people. After a while, just like clockwork, everything began coming together. I believe it was the moment when I deleted “Can’t" from my vocabulary. We can be our largest obstacle and even deter ourselves from becoming the person who God has determined we should be.
Of all your accolades, prizes and awards, which do you rate as extremely special?
The Hummingbird Silver Medal that I received in the 2010 Independence Award ceremony. Because as a child, I looked at the Witco sportsman and sportswoman award and Independence award ceremony and dreamt that someday that the President of our twin island republic will pin a medal on my chest.
What is the best compliment you have ever received?
In 2012, I represented T&T at the Arnold Sports Festival in the Pro Deadlift category. Each year they chose five lifters from different parts of the world to compete on this stage. I was invited in 2012 and a few days after arriving at the Arnold Sports Festival, I met one of the organisers, Brad Gillingham, a world champion and hall of famer and world record holder.
He said to me that afternoon that they were looking for people to be invited to the event and, for some reason, my name stood out in his head and when he mentioned it, all the organisers agreed. He then said, “Carlos, I am honoured to have you at this event.”
I am focused on the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games. Before that, I may participate at the world Track and Field Paralympic Games in October, and other championships, yet to be decided, that would build up to Rio 2016.
What advice would you give to aspiring athletes?
Be focused, determined, persevere, and follow your dreams. Life as an athlete is not easy but once we are determined to make it, sport has the ability to transform a simple person into a legend, with lots of rewarding moments.
What goals and/or plans do you still have?
Some of the goals that I still have are to see a stadium built in my area (maybe with my name on it), becoming a full-time motivational speaker, and running programmes in schools and correctional institutions for young people.
Describe yourself in two words, one beginning with C, the other with G, your initials.
The two words that will easily characterise me using my initials are Courageous and Gifted...if I may say so! (Laughing).
NOTE: The T&T Blind Welfare Association, of which Greene is a council member, recently launched its 100th year (1914-2014) commemorative publication. In it, Greene’s success story is highlighted.