Athletic talent, perserverance carry Calder-Marshall from Kingston's ghetto to PhD


Athletic talent, perserverance carry Calder-Marshall from Kingston's ghetto to PhD

Observer writer

Sunday, May 24, 2020

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Claudia Calder understood from an early stage that her athletic abilities could get her into college in the United States and a degree, something to get her out of her inner-city Kingston neighbourhood.

The former Convent of Mercy Academy 'Alpha' standout high jumper and intermediate hurdler had attracted attention from college coaches while still competing at the various track and field meets and the Penn Relays for Alpha, but she had no idea she could have used the opportunities to pursue postgraduate degrees.

Today, Dr Claudia Calder-Marshall has a career as a tenured assistant professor at Albany State University, having achieved her bachelor's degree in psychology (2012) and her master's in counselling (2015) from her alma mater, Hampton University.

Last year she graduated from Auburn University with a PhD in Counsellor Education and Supervision, but the road from Common, a community off Red Hills Road in Kingston “to Auburn, Alabama by way of Hampton, Virginia, has been mentally and physically draining, but “worth it in the end”.

“This little girl from the ghettos of Kingston, Jamaica, can now call herself Dr Claudia Calder-Marshall,” she said with a sense of pride.

The former national junior representative, who participated at the 2003 CARIFTA Games and the 2007 Island Games in New York, said adjusting to life in the United States and then having to survive virtually hand to mouth with little or no financial support tested her resolve.

“Adjusting to life in an American college had its challenges,” she said. “I remember being in my first English course and being told that I needed to 'go back to high school' because I used British English instead of American English when writing.”

The lack of financial support meant having to stay in the USA on holidays, 'cotching' with friends.

“An additional challenge was being from a poor family, as travelling home for holidays was not an option. Therefore, I found myself bouncing around different friends' and teammates' homes during the holidays. I am so grateful for their families for taking me in when I had nowhere else to go as this made my undergraduate journey more bearable,” Calder-Marshall recalled.

She was not alone on the journey, however.

“What made the adjustment bearable was travelling with another Jamaican [Patrice Richards] and meeting others [Tashana Willock, Racquel Vassel and Kristal McGreggor], who were my teammates and support system throughout the entire process,” she noted.

The age-old balancing act of making sure the school work gets done and also competing at the highest level were part and parcel of the experience.

“Balancing academics and athletics was very challenging, especially during my first three years. During this time, I was a chemical engineer major and apart of the travelling squad, which means I was often travelling from Wednesday to Sunday weekly during track season. This led to conversation with my athletic academic advisor about changing majors. I ended up changing my major to psychology my junior year and found this more manageable during the track and field season as these professors were more understanding and supportive,” Calder-Marshall said.

Having to change her major was a blessing, she said, as she was able to do something that she loved.

“Based on the fact that choosing this major came out of the need to 'find balance' between academics and athletics, I will say that I did not choose this major, it basically chose me.”

But even after completing her first degree and getting he chance to pursue postgraduate studies, she had to find a way to make it work, even if she had to burn the candles at both ends, so to speak and find a job to support herself.

“Postgraduate studies were not apart of my plan after graduating with my bachelor's degrees. However, I had a year of eligibility due to being 'red-shirted' for one outdoor season after pulling my hamstring.

“I was approached by coaches from other universities expressing interest in me competing for them and the willingness to fund my master's degree. I was considering accepting this offer when one of my mentors encouraged me to apply for the master's programme at my alma mater (Hampton University). I applied and was accepted and decided to take this route because, by this time, I fully understood that college sports is a business, and competing for fun was not an option,” she reasoned.

“Working while pursuing my graduate degrees was a struggle. As a graduate student, specifically at the doctoral level, you are advised not to work. However, this was not an option for me. I was not able to get loans and my family could not afford paying out of pocket for my schooling,” Calder-Marshall recollected.

During her master's programme, she said: “I[] worked full time as a therapist in the in-home and residential treatment setting and part-time as a research assistant to pay for school out of pocket. Then during my doctoral programme, I worked full time as a school-based therapist to pay the fees that was not covered by assistantship. Having to work while pursuing these degrees made me miss a lot of internal opportunities that were afforded to other students in my programme, and therefore, had to work twice as hard to seek opportunities externally to make myself “more marketable and competitive” after graduating”.

Calder-Marshal, who won the high jump at a JAAA Junior Trials but was not selected for the team and who also contested both the high jump and the 400m hurdles at the Penn Relays, said she chose Hampton University before she knew that other schools were also interested in recruiting her.

“I met with Hampton University's coaches Maurice Pierce and Aldrin Gray after the 400m hurdles finals at the 2008 Boys' and Girls' Championships, and they informed me that they were interested in offering me a scholarship. It wasn't until after Raymond 'KC' Graham (who was coaching at Hampton during this time) came to my house to discuss the details of the scholarship and I signed the intent letter [and then] I found out about other interested schools,” she stated.

Calder-Marshall's score of 1300 (from a maximum 1600) in the SAT and eight CSEC (five twos and three threes) and three CAPE subjects would have also enhanced her options to attend most Division 1 schools in the USA.

Despite the hardships and the hurdles she had to clear, she said she was grateful for the opportunity.

“Being from the ghetto you're often not expected to amount to anything, and I would be lying if I said that I thought I would be where I am today. Had it not been for track and field and being exposed to life outside the ghetto, I would probably have succumbed to the ghetto life. Even my mom, at one point, wanted me to quit track because of the late hours I was getting home after practice, but once she saw the bigger picture of me being afforded an opportunity, she allowed me to continue,” said Calder-Marshall.

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