Rarely can a mother boast that four of her six children have represented TT in the same sport – track and field.
Portia St Louis, mother to five girls and one boy, can pat herself on the back for her diligent work with her biological children and the many others she has fostered.
Track and field was almost mandatory for her children with the genes they inherited from both of parents. St Louis is a former athlete and her husband, Ali, was one of the best quarter-milers for TT during the 1980s. He competed in the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics and later became a top-class coach.
St Louis described the challenge of being both coach and mother. “It is very difficult to coach your own. I nurtured them from small and as they grew older it became easier. They would be disciplined on the track same way as home, so there was no real separation. However, without sport it wouldn’t be possible because it kept them focused all throughout their young lives,” she told WMN.
St Louis said was happy her children had an opportunity she missed growing up. “My mother couldn’t afford to send me on a scholarship I received at the age of 18. That shattered everything! I worked harder and received another scholarship later on, for which I didn’t need any assistance, but when I got it I was already pregnant. It was really depressing for me, so I walked with that paper clipping of my acceptance for many years. I would look at it and kept thinking what my life would be if I went abroad. However, that encouraged me to work with my children much harder so that they can get their education and not be like me.”
She and her husband moved from Palo Seco to D’Abadie over 30 years ago, a move that has benefitted the eastern community. They formed the New Image netball team, formerly the D`Abadie Progressive Athletic Club (DPAC) 15 years ago.
St Louis, a coach for over 25 years said of DPAC, “The foundation of the club is based on an all-round development of the child and we employ the spiritual aspect of the child. The athletes don’t give me trouble on the track; when I speak they understand. My approach is probably different. My home is always open for them. Recently, we have had athletes go on scholarship (and) represent TT at CAC Juniors and CARIFTA. We coach all the events in both track and field at the club.”
The members of the club are from lower socioeconomic backgrounds and she admits it is challenging to observe their talent being restricted by their financial constraints.
Although she has proven her worth as a coach, she said it is not always smooth sailing. “It is very hard being a female coach because some of the athletes don’t believe we can coach them.” But she presses on, sometimes at her and her children’s expense.
I miss my children’s PTA meetings, evening classes or courses because I am committed to the training, and weekends are all competitions. You don’t have much time for yourself because it is an ongoing commitment.
One of the greatest challenges she continues to face daily is coping with the death of her husband in a vehicular accident, just minutes away from their home seven years ago.
“I am doing much better now, but in the beginning, it was hard. It was challenging when it came to the children and their schooling because that was his job. With God it was much easier knowing that I have hope. Thankfully the children had God to rely on besides me,” an emotional St Louis told WMN.
Now a grandmother of six, she offers some advice to parents and guardians. “If you love your children, you will bring them up in the fear of the Lord, because there must be a purpose in everything you are doing.”
She was adamant on another crucial point. “Don’t stop them! Track and field doesn’t take away from the child’s education, it enhances it. …Parents take away the kids before exams, but it is a discipline. It is very difficult for a child to come back in this sport after stopping. The parent is responsible to guide them with their time management. Sport enhances their academic abilities because you are healthy and the brain functions better.