Alia Atkinson: I am a myth-buster
We knew she was a world champion swimmer, but we discovered last Saturday that Alia Atkinson is also a powerful speaker. As she addressed the annual business conference of the GraceKennedy Group, she recounted how she extinguished the notion that swimming “was not for the likes of her”.
With little support at the beginning of her career, Alia made a lonely path up to the finals of the 2012 Olympics and wondered to herself if this was where she would stop, but said she decided to fight on because she did not want to go through life wondering “what if?”
Alia’s response to those who murmured that ‘swimming was not really a black woman’s sport’ was to work even harder, because, she says, “I am very stubborn… I had to believe in myself…I knew what my goals were; and to reach them, I had to try that much harder”.
She said the ones who had a negative attitude towards her were the very ones who motivated her to persevere. “I am a myth-buster,” she declared. “I am on top, and I am a black Jamaican swimmer!”
Alia reminded her audience that it was not luck that brought her a world record; it was very hard work. She shared this quotation from the Dalai Lama: There are only two days in the year that nothing can be done. One is called yesterday and the other is called tomorrow. Today is the right day to love, believe, do and mostly live.
“All we can count on is today,” said the passionate Jamaican. “We have to strive in each today, so that at the end of it, we can say ‘I did my best’.”
She expressed appreciation that GraceKennedy “joined her team” 11 months before her record performance as her first corporate sponsor, helping her to realise her dream.
Alia explained that although her family members were involved, mostly in athletics, her parents insisted that their children had to learn to swim, “because we are surrounded by water”. She said once she was introduced, “I became a water baby!”
She is hoping that the swimming fraternity will enjoy more support from the Government and media to bring more resources and exposure to the sport.
As I listened to Alia, it dawned on me that in this ‘land of wood and water’, many of our inner-city children have never been to a beach. How many more ‘water babies’ are there just waiting for the opportunity to be discovered?
Alia explained to us, that it was by taking “the road less travelled” that she was able to make her mark; giving her country an early Christmas present on December 7, 2014. How sweet it was to read this report on the BBC website: “Alia Atkinson won Jamaica's first-ever gold at the World Short Course Championships, becoming the first black woman to win a world swimming title. The 25-year-old equalled Plymouth-based Lithuanian Olympic champion Ruta Meilutyte's 100m breaststroke world record of one minute and 2.36 seconds.”
To introduce Alia, a video of the Doha event was played, and we were on our feet as we saw Alia finish, check the clock, register shock at her achievement, and then absolute joy in the realisation of her dream. My friend Dennis Jones uses Alia’s surprise photo as his Twitter avatar, such is the impression she has made on her fellow Jamaicans. To use each day to the fullest, to defy the myth-busters, we can, like Alia, surprise ourselves and bask in the joy of our hard-won achievements.
Nightmare in France
How do we bring peace to this unstable world? This is a provoking question to the many leaders worldwide who have been expressing their shock, sorrow and condemnation at last week’s terror attacks in France. Most of our leaders were elected because they were deemed as people of courage and problem-solvers. In addition to governments, the world has no shortage of non-governmental organisations with mission statements that would bring tears to your eyes.
Clearly, such extreme situations require new and strong initiatives. Folks in the private sector know they must deliver results in order to stay in business, and the solution to world peace may very well be the running of such organisations like the United Nations like a business. These organisations have some excellent leaders, and thank goodness they exist; however, it is clear that new thinking is needed to address these nightmare situations.
Last Wednesday terrorists slaughtered members of the staff of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, which carried cartoons on various religions, including Islam, and later attacked shoppers at a kosher market. We should acknowledge that those murderers are extremists. Muslim religious leaders Imam Chalgoumi in Paris stated, “I am extremely angry. These are criminals, barbarians! They have sold their souls to hell. This is not freedom. This is not Islam, and I hope the French will come out united at the end of this.”
President of the Press Association of Jamaica Dionne Jackson Miller said in a statement that the attack in Paris was “an attack on democracy and freedom of the press, which must be of concern to all who support these important values anywhere in the world”. She asserted that members of the Press Association of Jamaica "stand with our colleagues in France as we condemn this violent attack and reiterate the importance of guarding democracy and protecting the press from intimidation".
Jamaica’s Muslim comm-unity has condemned such acts consistently, and have participated lovingly in inter-faith activities. Even as we abhor extremists, we should ensure that we respect the beliefs of law-abiding folks. Meanwhile, we look to our much-praised world leaders to work harder at making our world a place of peace for all.
Working for safer roads
Last Thursday, members of the National Road Safety Council, led by Dr Lucien Jones, reviewed the data on the sad loss of 327 lives on Jamaica’s roads last year. They noted an alarming increase in pedestrian deaths — 99 persons; 50 per cent of this number is estimated to be caused by pedestrian error. There was also a steep increase in the deaths of motorcyclists.
Senior Superintendent Colin Allen of the Road Traffic Division related to us their special operation, last Tuesday, in Westmoreland, which had the most fatalities last year. In that single day, they seized 95 pairs of illegal plates and 32 vehicles. They gave out 310 tickets and 50 summonses. All agreed that the soon-to-be passed amendments to the Road Traffic Act will be a big help to the authorities who are working hard to make our roads safe. However, no law can help us, if we do not play our part by making road safety our responsibility.