‘SHOULD I GIVE UP?’
Four-time national hammer throw champion Nayoka Clunis has shown her strength time and time again in the field but with limited finances and a cancer scare, she’s on the brink, appealing for assistance.
The 28-year-old had a successful 2023 season in which she became the first Jamaican ever, man or woman, to compete in the event at last summer’s World Athletics Championships in Budapest, Hungary. Over the course of the year, she threw over 70m six times including a personal best 71.18m â€” just .30m shy of the national record and was ranked as high as 24th in the world.
But little did anyone know that she was going through a medical situation that could potentially affect the rest of her life.
“I was diagnosed in May of this year of having pre-cancer cells in my cervix. Instantly when I did the pap smear and they told me, I was like ‘OK, focus on track. The surgery is in November, just focus on track.’ I still haven’t been able to process it. I don’t even know how to handle this situation myself,” she tearfully told the Jamaica Observer.
Having done the surgery weeks ago she said she should know more about her condition this week. The situation hasn’t stopped her from training, but the financial burden is taking a toll on her.
On a monthly basis, Clunis says her expenses would be around US$1,800 ($279,000) and can rise to US$4,000 ($620,000) depending on the number of meets she attends. Her income is significantly less.
Clunis said she’s had conversations with individuals, including Sports Minister Olivia Grange and Jamaica Athletics Administrative Association’s (JAAA) President Garth Gayle, but hasn’t found much success.
“I’ve had dialogue with Minister Grange, and Mr Garth Gayle has helped in some situations, but my current financial situation has not improved. The last six months have been crazy. After the World Champs and me trying to figure out what’s next leading up the Olympic year, this year, I have been training super hard. I’m doing numbers in the weight room that I’ve never done before. But I am at a point where I’m not able to maintain my body at the level where I need to be. I’m constantly having nerve issues, knee issues, hip pains that are [forcing] me to take steps back from practice,” said Clunis.
“I’ve had dialogue with Minister Grange over the summer, but with her delegating me to different persons, it’s like I’m going full circle over and over again. This is not the first time I’ve reached out for help. Of course, other people are dealing with situations of their own but I am at a point where this is Olympic year, I don’t want to have a repeat like at the World Championships where I’m getting hurt couple days before competing and not being able to execute. I trained super hard last year, and my dreams went up in flames,” she added.
Since last Wednesday the Observer has attempted, without success, to get responses from Minister Grange and the JAAA boss.
Gayle ,however, said he would “speak more fulsomely on the topic” when he returns from an overseas trip.
Clunis, a former Excelsior High student who trains in the United States, said she’s had to sacrifice necessary recovery methods such as visiting sports massage therapists and chiropractors because it’s too costly. She told the Observer she is constantly experiencing pain throughout her entire body, which has not been alleviated despite her attempts to manage it on her own.
“As much as how I would hope these little recovery tools that I have could help in a more substantial way, they can’t. I’ve had to pick and choose doing the best that I can with the little I have and I’ve been doing this for years, this is nothing new. But I just don’t want to go to the Olympic Games just to participate. There’s only so much I can do by myself,” she said.
Over the years she’s had conversations with people who seem willing to assist but nothing comes from it, she says.
“I’m not physically in Jamaica to talk to these people, and when I’m there, it’s the height of track season and they’ll be like ‘wait until after World Champs’ but after World Champs, I’m sent to this person, sent to that person, and then the full circle comes again. I’m not sure how much more I can do.”
An emotional Clunis has first-hand experience of starting with very little in her personal life, having lost her mother at the age of 7 and having been homeless during her last two years at Excelsior. Despite these hardships, she’s managed to achieve success.
“I told myself I was good enough to make it elsewhere because I couldn’t stay in Jamaica and go to UWI and UTech because I’m homeless. Went to junior college, made sure I graduated, put myself in the best position to get division one offers. I did that, went to [University of] Minnesota, got two degrees. During COVID, got my master’s degree at [University of] Tennessee, so when I’m saying I’m doing the best I can, people truly don’t understand me and my story and how best I’ve put myself in this situation,” she said.
The road to the Paris Olympics begins in a matter of weeks for Clunis, but she’ll need funding if she’s to achieve her objectives.
“Looking at my bank account right now, I can’t afford to go to any of the meets that I need to qualify for the Olympic Games. So should I just give up my Olympic dream because I can’t afford it? I’m just asking for a little help to make what I’m going through a little bit easier, because last year I asked for help and there was little help towards my financial status.”
Though wanting better for herself, the Cloud County, University of Minnesota, and University of Tennessee thrower wants more done for her fellow athletes.
“It’s not just about me, there’s a lot of post-collegiate athletes that are in the same position and even worse than I am in. But they are afraid to talk up because there’s so much scrutiny if you talk up. We’re not trying to bash any organisation or talk bad about any individual, we just need help,” she said.
“There’s this one girl who periodically sends US$100 out of the blue. For some people, that’s not a lot, but for me, she sent it this morning and I just cried because there are people out there who are willing to help. Rajindra [Campbell], me, Erica [Belvit], Lloydricia [Cameron], we all want the help. We want to easily go to a meet and focus on this meet, but [insted] we’re going to meets and focusing on how we going to pay rent or light bill because we don’t know how to make ends meet with what we’re doing. Jamaicans really don’t understand how hard it is to be a professional athlete when life is just throwing you in difficult situations,” Clunis added.