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Olympian on her face

Javelin record holder Olivia McKoy forced to sell ‘bag juice’, live on streets

BY DONNA HUSSEY-WHYTE Sunday Observer staff reporter husseyd@jamaicaobserver.com

Sunday, July 21, 2013    

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OLYMPIAN Olivia McKoy represented Jamaica with distinction at the premier global sports showpiece.

But these days, the national javelin record holder who donned the Jamaica colours for 20 years in various stadia, is almost flat on her face. Her tears, which flowed freely when the Jamaica Observer caught up with her selling bagged juices on the streets of Kingston late last week, signalled a battered and bruised woman who has been forced against the ropes.

And even as passers-by stop to purchase juice from her for $20, none recognise the 39-year-old, clad in a black inner blouse, black skirt and a black sweater with sleeves rolled up.

McKoy skilfully manoeuvred the lines of approaching vehicles at the intersection of Oxford Road and Knutsford Boulevard on Friday, trying desperately to get a sale. Some of the juices in her three bags have long melted from the hours of exposure in the sweltering afternoon heat.

One question from a member of the Sunday Observer team which spotted her as she peddled her wares trigger a flow of tears that seems unending — “how did you end up on the street selling bag juices?”

“I have been living on the street,” McKoy said, after regaining her composure. “It’s been very rough for me. But this is what I am doing right now, because I don’t want to go and do anything bad to make a living. I just decided to start selling juice, because financially it has been very, very difficult for me,” she said.

McKoy represented Jamaica at the 2000 Sydney, Australia Olympic Games and returned eight years later to participate at the Beijing, China, showpiece.

She has been to numerous Commonwealth Games, winning a bronze medal in 2006, and also represented the country at the Pan American Games and the Central American and Caribbean Championships.

The veteran javelin thrower placed second at the National Senior Championship in June.

“I have represented my country for 20 years and that is all I know to do,” she said.

Things took a turn for the worse a year and a half ago after the Olympian returned from overseas.

“I came back from the United States to do my training,” she stated. “My main aim was to prepare for the (London) Olympic Games with my son, and I went into the Belvedere community and was hit in the head and robbed. That was June 2012. And since then it has affected me because I got three wounds to my head, so that really took a toll on my body so I didn’t make the team,” she said. “That hampered my training. Since then it’s been downhill financially and otherwise. And so I have been trying to recover from that.”

This she said has been extremely difficult and costly as she had to visit the hospital on a regular basis.

“I try to train but it has been very difficult. The doctors told me I had to take it easy, but I am trying to get back on my feet. I do my training but it’s kind of hard right now. So I am basically on the streets sleeping at nights. I don’t have anywhere to stay because it’s just a lot of harassment that I have been experiencing.”

McKoy appealed for assistance in an Observer story published early last year, but her current predicament suggests that things have worsened.

She said that her financial situation has got so bad that she was unable to pay rent and spent many nights on the streets of Kingston with her four-year-old son by her side.

“If I meet anybody on the street, like a man or woman and I go into their home, they would want sexual favours and I wasn’t prepared to do that. Men have tried to get at me like that, but when I point out that that was not the original arrangement, I just had to tell them thank you, goodbye, and just go back on the street with my son,” she said.

She said that shortly after returning to Jamaica she rented a house, then relocated to live with her family in Above Rocks, St Catherine, but was abused and thrown out by her sister’s boyfriend.

“I started a business there. I bought material and made a chicken coop but he took it away from me,” she said.

With nowhere to go and no money left, she was again forced on the streets.

“Nothing is too menial for me to do,” she said. “I just decide to do this.”

While McKoy is sleeping on the streets and trying to earn a living from her bag juice venture, she apparently has the certification to accomplish much more. She holds a bachelors degree in Business Administration from Louisiana Tech University and is also pursuing a Masters degree.

“I had started Industrial Organisational Psychology and then I went over to the MBA programme, so I still have like about six credit hours to finishing up my Masters degree,” she told the Sunday Observer.

Growing up in St Catherine, McKoy attended Tulloch Primary School, Crescent All-Age, Bog Walk Secondary, St Jago High, and Northern Caribbean University (NCU) before taking up an overseas scholarship.

“My mother was a district nurse so she always travels around delivering babies so I would have to travel with her. So wherever we were that’s where I went to school,” she stated. “I got an academic scholarship to NCU, then went to Louisiana Tech on a track scholarship and after a while they gave me an academic scholarship too. So I was on two scholarships at Louisiana Tech University.”

McKoy lived in Atlanta for 15 years while attending university and representing Jamaica.

On Friday, McKoy said that she was on her last $300 when she decided to buy and sell bag juices as a money-turner.

“I don’t know how many bag juice I can sell to actually get everything together, but I am trying my best,” she said.

“I have requested help from the Seventh Day Adventist church that I attend several times. I have gone to other churches. But they have not been able to assist me — to provide me with a shelter. I have tried the different centres but nothing has materialised. I have been walking around with a suitcase with my things, but now my things are just scattered all over the place. I don’t even know where some of my things are. I got a bed from the JAAA (Jamaica Athletics Administrative Association) but I had to leave it somewhere on Spanish Town Road because I don’t have anywhere to put it.”

She said that the JAAA has given her some support while she was trying to get a place to rent.

“But after four months they told me that they wouldn’t be able to help me anymore so I wanted to present my situation to at least the Minister of Sports to see what they could do, especially for the former national representatives who have fallen on hard times,” McKoy said.

“I have represented my country well. I mean I have sold my country, even though I never got a gold medal or medalled at every major competition or event, but I still played my role. And I think a regular civil servant is compensated for their time, so I mean there should be something that could be done for us. Even to give us a little piece of land to build a little house — something to take away the shame. It’s like they enjoy seeing us in this disgraceful situation. I mean nothing is disgraceful about trying to earn a living by selling something to drink, but it could be less difficult,” she said.

McKoy said that while she represented Jamaica, much of what she earned went back into training.

“Most of the times my training was out of pocket,” she said. “All of these Olympics I have coached myself. Everything that I have really achieved, except in 2000 when I had somebody who was helping me. The JAAA — when I asked them for money they would assist me the best way they could because they always say that they don’t really have it, so I would get like a $10,000 or $25,000 to help to buy food.

“When I was overseas training, some of the things I had to go through that they knew nothing about to actually represent my county,” she said. “We had to crawl under fences to find a track to train to represent our country. We put out so much for Jamaica. It’s a national pride, and for us, and to be treated like this... I’m talking about me now, because I have always vouched for the other field (events) persons but I’m talking for Olivia McKoy now. I didn’t know anything apart from representing my county. I didn’t know how to do anything else. So now after 20 years I have to find another life and you know its just constant bickering and bickering and nothing is happening. Give me a little something to rest my head.”

After an interruption to make a sale, McKoy continued.

“Even though I was sometimes in a job, I was always focused on wanting to do my best for my country. But I didn’t know that my country wasn’t really looking out for us, like what would happen after. There are a lot of athletes whom I have met who are in situations like this. Maybe they don’t want to talk about it, but I have slept on the streets with my child. I have slept on the streets several times. When I don’t have anywhere to go I just put my bag down and just sleep until morning.”

McKoy said that she has sent out numerous resumes seeking employment but so far nothing has happened.

“I am willing to work. I have mostly IT (information technology) experience and administrative experience. I was a pre-school teacher and a high school teacher, teaching for a year and a half at St Mary’s College and two years at a pre-school. So I have had those experiences and I have done something on my own to generate income. I have given out my resumes to some companies but I haven’t heard anything yet. I have been trying to get more resumes together so I can go around and see if I could get a job. But that has been very hard.”

Along with her inability to find a job and being homeless, McKoy has been caring for her child without the help of his father whom she says has turned her away whenever she seeks his help.

“He is always saying ‘I don’t have it, I don’t have it’, but if as a mother I don’t have a job and I don’t have anywhere to live. I’m sleeping on the streets with your child, I mean you must can do something. For even a bag juice a day call me and give it to me for him,” she said.

Three months ago, McKoy made the painful decision to send her son abroad to live with a friend.

But despite feeling neglected, the former athlete said that she still wants to represent Jamaica.

“I would like to continue to represent Jamaica even though I have been going through a physical illness as a result of the hit (head injury) and other stressful situations. But I would definitely love to continue,” she said.

She believes that with proper training she will once again do well.

“It’s my strong belief that God is able, that He has been carrying me through,” the baptised Adventist says. “Because it’s not easy and I have to put my total trust in God. It’s very lonely. It’s very sad. Because in my dark days it’s just God that I see,” she said, breaking down in tears again.

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