Don’t hate me, Jamaica, Ugandan athlete pleads

BY HG HELPS Editor-at-Large helpsh@jamaicaobserver.com

Monday, March 27, 2017

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Kingston College’s middle and long distance runner Aryamanya Rodgers wants Jamaican lovers of athletics to love, respect and support him as he prepares to make history later this week by competing at the premier schoolboy event this side of the world.


Rodgers, who related his hell, pain and discomfort when he left his homeland in August in a bid to reach Jamaica to start school at Kingston College, has come under pressure from members of the Calabar High School fraternity in respect of his participation for KC in the Boys and Girls Athletic Championship which begins tomorrow at the National Stadium and ends on Saturday.


Calabar, led by its principal Albert Corcho, objected to the manner in which the Inter-Secondary Schools Sports Association (ISSA) which manages the championship, approved Rodgers’ participation, saying that the youngster had missed the deadline for him to be in school, and demanded of ISSA a written explanation as to why discretion was applied in this case to allow the Ugandan youth to run.


Corcho, who in 2012 was interviewed and shortlisted to become principal of KC, has publicly criticised the ISSA management committee, of which he is a part, for the decision that was taken in his absence recently.


Followers of athletics have put forward mixed views on the subject, some even citing the anticipated fierce battle between Calabar, the defending champions in the boys division, and KC, the most successful school with 31 titles overall, as the real reason for Calabar’s protests.


But Rodgers, who will run the 1,500 metres Class Two and the 5,000 metres Open, wants Jamaica to show him some warmth, as according to him, the challenges that he faced in getting to Jamaica, a country that he has always loved, were not caused by him.


"It’s my first time in Jamaica and it disturbs me to see some of the things that people are saying about me," Rodgers told the Jamaica Observer in an interview last week.


"Supporters of track and field should stop hurting people because of their talents. In track and field it’s one man’s effort, it’s not like football. I want to stay in Jamaica and develop my track and field, and you never know, but I may wish to represent Jamaica one day, and if that opportunity comes up, I will make an effort, if there is some encouragement.


"When I learnt that I was coming to Jamaica I was happy because I never expected to be out of Uganda and I had an interest to know that there was a chance to be in Jamaica, to be near to Usain Bolt and all the other great athletes that Jamaica has produced. So I want to develop my athletics here.


"But so far I haven’t moved around so much because I am expecting some bad influences from outside, so for now I choose not to move around and just focus on the KC programme and school work," Rodgers said.


Told that critics of his running at ‘Champs’ this year said they were merely following the rules in objecting to his participation, Rodgers dismissed that.


"I don’t think it’s the rule only, because people feel hurt by my performances, I don’t know why. It’s not my fault that I am this talented. I don’t know why you should hate me because of my talent. I don’t think hating me for my talent is gonna do anyone any good."


The 16-year-old is preparing himself for a career in engineering, should his plan for becoming a professional athlete not work out, and so while he puts a lot of energy into the track programme, his school work is equally important, the lover of fried chicken and rice suggested.


He emphasised the learning of mathematics as crucial in his upward mobility as, according to him, nothing beats "being able to do addition, subtraction, division and multiplication".


"To some extent, what I am experiencing now at KC is what I expected. I expected a lot of fun and I am seeing it. I am loved by KC people, but what I never expected is the social media things. I am disturbed by what’s happening on social media, so I try my best not to pay too much attention to them.


"My experience was bad coming here. I was turned away by the airline two times, had my money taken away in Kenya, but fortunately all the money was not kept in one place, and it was a good thing I hid some of it. The Kenyan soldiers and the government were not so friendly, so it was all bad," he recounted.


Rodgers, while he was growing in western Uganda, ran in primary school, but said he was never interested in track and field. Football was his first love, a sport that he still plays, but he was encouraged by his uncle Reuben Twijukye, who is doing postgraduate studies in the United States to take track and field more seriously. That ended in him surprising everybody in his first race, and after that went on to win cross country races and other long distance events.


So when ‘Champs’ begin this week, Rodgers will go into the greatest school sporting event in the region with a strong commitment to succeed, record good times, but better yet, shake the negative monkey off his back, as he tries to win over the love of Jamaicans, and in turn force them to admire and respect the talent that he is equipped with.


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