"You Never Miss the Water…"
By Sharon Philogene
'You never know what you have until you lose it". These were the words which rang out in my head as I listened to Danelson Mahautiere and Mitchel Davis lament the lack of suitable training facilities for Track and Field on a sports segment of the news a few weeks ago. I thought of 'happier' times when as an athlete, I too, lamented the lack of suitable training facilities, and I wish that what I had was now available for their use.
In 1979, I began my sojourn at the Dominica Grammar School (DGS) and although Hurricane David had delayed the start of school, when I walked onto the ground of the DGS on Valley Road, it was truly a new beginning. I had been a student at the St, Martin Primary School, and I had never had a Physical Education (PE) experience at that institution. At my new school, we did not only have PE on the schedule, but we had Mr. Oswald Savarin and a playing field.
Anyone who attended the DGS during Mr. Savarin's tenure can attest to his enthusiasm for what he did. He was a knowledgeable, skilled, and organized sports teacher with great interpersonal skills. PE was a compulsory subject and some of us developed a love for different sports and tried out for various school teams. There was never a dull moment at the DGS where sport was concerned. A major advantage to being at the DGS at that time was access to training and competition facilities- the playing field in addition to the court. I still feel immense pride when I say," we had our own playing field'. Every afternoon, as far as I can recall, the school ground was alive with some training session or competition on the field or court. I am still perplexed that anyone could have conceived the idea of the destruction of what I would deem DGS' laboratory for Physical Education.
Right next to the DGS was another training/competition ground-the Windsor Park. It lacked some of the amenities now available at the Stadium but was a welcoming place for many. On any given day of the week, the Windsor Park was alive. On entering from the entrance on Bath Road and glancing to the right, a few or several men would be seated on the stands deep in discussion or just enjoying whatever was going on the grassy grounds at the time. To the left, one would be lured by the pleasant and sometimes not so pleasant sounds associated with either basketball, netball, or volleyball. The Windsor Park was a community sports playground and the national multi-sport competition ground. With a bit of tweaking here and there, cricket, football, basketball, netball and volleyball competitions were hosted at the Windsor Park. I am certain that many who grew up in Roseau and environs can speak of playing on weekends or holidays, or competing at club or national level in the Windsor Park. I am also still perplexed that a community sports playground and a multi-sport venue could be destroyed for the development of a 'single sport stadium', though I will concede that accommodation is often made for football and other social activities.
Immediately across from the DGS is the Botanical Gardens and though one area was earmarked for competitive Cricket, it was not the main sporting ground in Roseau. Yes, we trained there for a period of time, especially when the number of athletic clubs increased and more training ground space was needed, but the Windsor Park Stadium was where we knew we could go to train on a surface sans all the undulations of the gardens and where we could ensure safe training during the cricket season. Today, the Botanical Gardens has become the default sporting ground-a most un-suitable one at that- and since the gardens has always been the default place for cricket, it can be a most hostile place for track and field athletes when cricketers come to claim their turf.
During the eighties and early nineties when I ran track and got the opportunities to represent Dominica at Track and Field Meets in the region, I dreamt of the day when in Dominica I would run on a synthetic track in a stadium designed to cater to my sport. I can still recall the feeling of stepping onto that synthetic track in Martinique during my first National representation-it was a CARIFTA Games. Even the spikes under the sprinting shoe had to be changed for the running surface-I was what we called then, 'a country bookie' so unfamiliar and overwhelmed I was with a modern track and field facility.
Having secured a Track and Field scholarship from the University of Maryland Eastern Shore in 1990, I experience the joy and satisfaction that comes from having access to facilities designed to facilitate the success of athletes, and so when athletes today speak of the need for facilities, I feel their pain and hope my dream to one day run on a surface in Dominica designed to cater to my sport becomes a reality. I have accepted that by the time, the importance of such a facility is realized and comes to fruition, I will not be able to sprint or even run, but if I am only able take my shoes off and place my feet on that surface, I will know that there is hope for the development of Track and Field on the island.
And so, when Mahautiere and Davis lament the need for proper training grounds, I stand in solidarity with them and the many others who have expressed this sentiment in the past, and I look back and say:"Thank God for small mercies".