Sport

Track shaped my life

GraceKennedy CEO Don Wehby tells how athletics groomed him for success

BY HOWARD WALKER Observer senior reporter walkerh@jamaicaobserver.com

Tuesday, February 11, 2014    

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A fit body and a fit mind go hand in hand and that's what has driven Don Wehby through his sporting career as a schoolboy and up the corporate ladder to being head of one of the largest companies in the Caribbean.

Wehby, 50, the current Group Chief Executive Officer of GraceKennedy Limited, holds a bachelor of science (Hons) and a Master of Science degree in Accounting from the University of the West Indies (UWI).

His success, he believes, was partly due to his participation at the Inter-secondary Schools Sports Association (ISSA) Boys' Athletics Championships while a student at St George's College, which has instilled in him the need to balance work and sport.

"When I was in the track and field season, which basically started for us right after Christmas, what I have found when training in early mornings and late evenings, my grades in school were actually better in the track and field season. What that would say to me is a fit body is also a fit mind," he told the Jamaica Observer yesterday.

"So very early in life track and field taught me time management, which is critical in anyone's career. Even in my job today as group CEO, how you manage your time is extremely important. Track and field also gave me that discipline, really working hard and setting yourself goals, visions and determined to realise those visions," he noted.

Wehby, who actually won gold in the Class Three 100m hurdles in 1978, and captured silver in both the 110m hurdles and the 400m hurdles in 1982, actually gained a Cable and Wireless academic scholarship to the UWI.

"I gave my career, in terms of track and field, a break, and in hindsight, it proved to be the right choice. I don't think I was talented as such, to go any further," said Wehby.

He continued: "I was more a hard worker in terms of training, although I had just about a certain amount of talent to take me to the final. The truth is I really enjoyed it, the camaraderie with the track and field team."

But Wehby was no slouch. He won the Class Three 100m hurdles in 14.4 seconds and had behind him one of the most talented schoolboy hurdlers and now coach Lennox Graham of Kingston College in second in 14.5.

"I started my track and field career in second form and I ran right up to second year six. I was primarily a hurdler, although I used to run all the 4x100 relays for St George's College," he revealed.

"I will tell you. Being an athlete at St George's in those days was really, really something special for me. St George's College in those days, we were not known for track and field, however, a few of us were hurdlers, including the Peralto brothers, plus there was this very talented hurdler called Chris Thelwell.

"One year, Thelwell and I won the hurdles and we were very proud as Georgians. In those days we called it taking the double for the hurdles and I think we came in the top 10 that year also," he pointed out. That year was 1978 when Thelwell had won the Class Two 110 hurdles.

"One of the most satisfactory races for me at Champs was actually the 400m hurdles. I think it was 1981 or '82 where everybody thought that I was too small to run 400m hurdles and one of my competitors said 'too weak' to run 400m hurdles," recalled Wehby.

"But I was very determined to prove everybody wrong and although I was a huge underdog going into the race, I really ran my heart out and got the silver medal. That was very, very satisfactory for me," he reminisced.

That year was actually 1982 and Wehby finished second in the 400m hurdles open in 55.6 seconds and was second in the Class One 110m hurdles 14.8 seconds.

"I was training so hard for the 400m hurdles it actually helped me for the 110 hurdles and I came second. So, I got two medals in the championship.

"That was the same year I was actually doing A levels and again I did very well in my A level subjects and got two silver medals. I actually think working hard on the track helped in getting great grades for me."

Now the well-respected leader of the GraceKennedy conglomerate has positioned his company as title sponsors of Champs until 2018, providing numerous opportunities for student/athletes to excel.

"There is life after track and field and I would say to all athletes at Champs, just ensure that you do your schoolwork and get good grades in school. That's very, very important."

He continued: "When you hear a Shelly-Ann or a Usain Bolt and others speak, the first thing they speak about is what their coach is saying, and I would say to the athletes, really listen to your coaches because these are people who have your best interest at heart and they have the experience to know what is good for you.

"So, I would encourage all the athletes to do that, and more importantly, get good grades. Stay honest to yourself and stay away from any drug enhancement," he stressed.

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