Sheckema Cunningham giving her all for country

Monday, July 23, 2018

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JASON McKay, coach of Sheckema Cunningham, Jamaica's karate representative at the Central American and Caribbean (CAC) Games in Barranquilla, Colombia, said he is hoping the 33-year-old fighter can use her 20 years of martial arts experience to adapt to a new fighting style after a month's training.

McKay sceptically took on the challenge to prepare Cunningham, having twice successfully prepared her to medal in differing martial arts styles, but with far more training time to adapt.

“She has skills and experience as a fighter but time is what she doesn't have, with the CAC Games schedule allowing for a one-month preparation,” said McKay, who arrived in Colombia on Saturday with Cunningham for karate, which will be contested Wednesday to Friday at Marymount School Coliseum.

“All was done that was possible. She is a great athlete and this is what great athletes are forced to do sometimes — the impossible. She knows how to fight and that is what is most important. Fighting is fighting, regardless of the styles. It is the rules that are to be observed,” McKay added.

The CAC Games will be Cunningham's third conversion in fighting styles. Originally a karate point fighter, she was converted to tae kwon do in 2011 by McKay, who drafted her into the first female combined martial arts team.

Cunningham had instant success, joining Alrick Wanliss as the first Jamaicans to medal in sparring at an International Taekwon-Do Federation World Championship, winning bronze medals in New Zealand.

In 2015 McKay again relied on Cunningham's versatility, coaching her to gold as a kickboxer at the German Open and double gold at the 2017 International Sports Karate and Kickboxing Association Amateur Members Association's World Championship in Greece.

Acknowledging that the sudden wildcard call for Colombia left her with little time, Cunningham said she is prepared to leave it all on the mat.

“It came up suddenly and I was told my country needed me, so I agreed to try. I'm giving it my all,” she said.

Cunningham, whose aim is to represent Jamaica in karate at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, must place in the first two of her division in Colombia — gold or silver — to automatically qualify for the 2019 Pan Am Games in Lima, Peru.

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