The couple who found love at Sigma RunSunday, March 07, 2021
When committed triathletes Ayanna Samuels and Balwayne Phillips trained for the 20th staging of the Sagicor Sigma Corporate Run in 2018, they had no idea that the universe had plans to change their lives forever.
To them, they were simply going through the motions on race morning, keeping their energies high, bodies pumped, and minds fixed on completing the race with a personal best. As fate would have it, not only did they leave the event proud of the time they clocked, but they also left with the excitement of a brewing relationship that positively altered the course of destiny.
On Sunday, February 18, 2018, as Balwayne meandered through Emancipation Park fresh from the 5.5k route, stretching his limbs to recoup his energy, by pure happenstance he saw, out of a sea of thousands of people and amidst the noise of park festivities, the woman who mesmerised him weeks earlier at a cycling competition that took them from Sovereign Centre in Kingston to Buff Bay in Portland, via Newcastle.
Determined to speak with her, he mustered all his confidence and approached Ayanna to strike up a conversation.
“When I went over, I asked her how the run was for her and she shared that her time was about 25 minutes. I figured if I didn't perform well, I couldn't tell her my time, so was relieved to be able to share that I did about 22 minutes, and she was impressed,” recounted Balwayne, a trained information technology expert turned health and wellness professional and coach.
As they continued their conversation the two realised that they had much more in common and arranged to be each other's partner for open water swim training, which they were each keen on being able to practice but could not, because they each did not have reliable training partner.
At that moment it was sealed and, as Ayanna puts it, “the flickering flames took off like a house on fire”. Much to their amusement, this confirmation of a swim partner was the genesis of the ultimate partnership the two would form.
“We think the odds of having seen each other in a number that is 25,000 is almost second to none; it was divine intervention. Further to our previous meeting we had had no way to contact each other. These moments make us feel like the person for you is out there, you just have to be open — that is very important,” said Ayanna, an aerospace engineer, international development professional and gender advocate.
Fast-forward three years and many athletic adventures later, the couple has formalised their union through marriage and last year welcomed their daughter, Xanai Amari Samuels-Phillips, into the world.
They credit the beginning of their best adventure yet to the Sigma Run, which over the past 23 years has contributed over $500 million to support child-related charities across Jamaica.
In fact, so close to their hearts is the Sigma Run that Ayanna, a 15-year veteran of the charity race, last year ran an impressive 33:02 minutes, while five months pregnant.
But Sigma Run is more than the beginning of a love story for this couple; it is also a soul-filling experience that galvanises Jamaicans to give back to the country in a fun-filled atmosphere of camaraderie and philanthropy. The avid athletes, who combined have participated in the signature charity event for close to two decades, shared that though they usually compete in numerous events annually, the Sigma Run is a staple feature of their calendars.
“It is an event that, in my mind, has to be on the annual calendar, and when I hear the amount that is raised, it is so impressive. I feel that everybody joins in. corporate Jamaica and individuals really come together to show the best of Jamaica and commit to a cause that is most needed,” Ayanna said.
Echoing her sentiments, Balwayne expressed that the organisation of the run is chief among the reasons for his unwavering support each year. He lauded Sagicor for successfully executing an event that caters to the needs of all patrons, especially the more athletically inclined registrants who have the option to start the race ahead of the pack, each year in the 'Preferred Start segment.
The couple was especially honoured to be able to participate this year in the Sigma Run Invitational race, which took place in New Kingston some two weeks ago following a break in all sporting activities last year due to the health pandemic.
When asked why she decided to run this year, Ayanna, who touted her love for running, said, “The literal act of putting on my sneakers makes me feel happy, has an effect on my hormones, sends serotonin throughout my body. For us to have received an invitation to participate in the invitational race made us feel so inspired. To know that there is a body that has gotten the requisite 'OK' from the Ministry of Health to host a leading event within the ambit of COVID protocols makes us feel so excited because, like everyone else, we really have not had that opportunity for the longest time.”
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