BEDFORD, England — The Jamaican Paralympic team has been a hit with the small but vibrant Jamaican community here in Bedford in the English Midlands where they have set up a pre-Games training camp as they get ready for the start of the 14th Paralympic Games in London in under two weeks time.
After a week of training and taking part in a meet at the Bedford Athletics stadium on Saturday, yesterday was an off day but was packed with activities.
A second visit to the Bunyan Road Church, a Church of God of Prophesy denomination that included a Jamaican breakfast then being hosted by a Jamaican couple — Junior and Bev McKnight — later in the day.
A television reporter from ITV Channel 4, the official Paralympic broadcasters here in the United Kingdom, was on hand at the church yesterday to document the team and did interviews with several of the athletes.
Christopher Samuda, president of the Jamaica Paralympics Association, told the Jamaica Observer yesterday that the reception here has been “tremendous”.
From being met at the airport by a delegation from the Bedford community along with the (Minister of State for Sports), Natalie Neita Headley when they arrived on August 10, to meals and community involvement here, Samuda said they couldn't ask for more.
“The University of Bedfordshire and the Jamaican community here has opened their arms to us and this has been a tremendous boost to the team’s morale,” Samuda said.
The University of Bedfordshire has been host to over 12 countries taking part in the Paralympics at their Freedom Hall complex.
“When we are away in foreign lands it is always a good thing to see other members of the Jamaica family, hear the Jamaican patois and interact with them, this has made the athletes, especially the newer ones more comfortable,” Samuda said.
The Jamaicans in Bedford have also made certain there is no shortage of food that the athletes are accustomed to, Samuda said. Breakfast yesterday included fried dumplings, callaloo and fritters.
Prior to yesterday, the team was feted off the University campus, and on Saturday, they went to a club where dominoes were being played with Jamaican music in the background.
All this, Samuda said, has led to “an exceptionally high level of camaraderie”. “A lot of the these athletes had developed a bond as they had travelled to Beijing, China, (four years ago), as well as the Para-Pan-American Games in Guadalajara, Mexico two years ago, but what we are seeing now is them developing a sense of family,” he said.
Sprinters Javon Campbell and Shane Hudson are relative newcomers, but they have quickly integrated themselves into the fabric of the team.
Tanto Campbell, Samuda noted, is the team captain and will carry the Jamaican flag in the Opening Ceremony on August 29, while Alphanso Cunningham has been selected to carry it in the Closing Ceremony. Samuda said he was expecting no less than four medals. “What complexion we don't know yet, but we think we will have some gold medals to take back home to Jamaica,” he noted.