IT IS a lifelong dream to represent your country in any sport but the talented Ayana Russell did it in three different sports. She suited up for the national team predominantly in football for 14 years, as well as martial arts and netball in her younger days. She also played cricket and basketball at the high school level.
Sport is in her genes because her older sister and two younger brothers represented TT under the command of their expert parents as their coaching staff. She boasted that they instilled core values such as love, accountability, commitment, respect and passion.
In her main sport, the defender/midfielder played in three CONCACAF Women's Championship editions (2010, 2014 and 2018), two Central American and Caribbean Games editions (2010 and 2018), and the 2015 Pan American Games.
The former TT skipper was part of the 2014 women`s national football team that suffered the anguish of missing out on the 2015 FIFA Women's World Cup in Canada.
She recalled, “Returning home on a draw with a game point from Quito, Ecuador, playing in the gruesome altitude left no questions in my mind that our ticket was booked to the 2015 Women's World Cup in front of our home crowd.”
She continued, “I believed, we had the best mix of youth and experience on that team, but missed opportunities and a blunder of a goal scored on us, crushed our dreams in the last minute of the game. I even questioned God a little but gained a noteworthy sense of understanding.”
Her love for sports began with martial arts and netball until she joined her hometown football team Las Lomas Sporting Academy that was coached by her father. There were no female football teams so she trained with the boys but at the age of 12, she joined an all-girls team Jane Public Football Club (the female equivalent of Joe Public FC). That move proved beneficial as she was selected on the national team. However, she was unable to compete with the team abroad due to her age.
In 2004, she earned her first national selection and she still remains one of the youngest ever to do so, at 15. Through her exceptional performances, two years later, she received a football scholarship to Monroe Community College, USA where she graduated in 2008 with an associate degree. Then, she transferred to complete her Bsc at the University of Alabama, Birmingham in 2011.
Afterwards, she played semi-pro with Rochester Rhinos and SC Cobras in the US while branching off into coaching high schools, clubs and even college.
Sadly, in 2014 Russell experienced another blow, this time off the field that left her reeling for quite some time. “I returned home in February from my Master`s Degree studies because I found out that my father was diagnosed with cancer. On May 4, 2014, I came face to face with my biggest fear in life, living without someone I love. Losing my father was a life-altering time for my family and even more for myself. He taught us everything but how to live without him.”
After a few years of despondency, the 32-year-old Russell had finally seen the rainbow after the rain.
“With heartbreak and emptiness surrounding two things I’ve embodied most after God, came a day that showed me to never question God’s plan. April 13, 2016, was the day I became a mother. Locking eyes with my son restored every lost faith and provided a special drive and motivation to set an example for him. My entire purpose and direction in life changed with the birth of my son. I have always viewed my mother and other mother figures around as superheroes because of their superior love and devotion to their families.”
Months after giving birth, the El Dorado East Secondary School alumni overcame the heartbreak of 2014 by returning to contest the 2019 Women's World Cup Qualifiers. However, the Junior and Senior Sportswoman 2016 football representative, got a rude awakening.
“I jumped back into playing without consideration of a combination of bodily changes, exclusively breastfeeding, the demands of an elite athlete and a mother of a baby. It became strenuous but motivated me to familiarise myself with the female anatomy post-pregnancy.
"I became more aware of the lack of emphasis and implementation of programmes to assess, monitor and evaluate performance at the level we desire to compete.”
With these findings and experiences, Russell focused her energies to establishing the Utopia Health and Fitness for women and post-pregnancy women. She describes the daily sessions at the Las Lomas #2 Recreation Ground as enjoyable, respectful, and judgement-free where people come together to attain their health and fitness goals.
She is optimistic that someday she can obtain a physical training place of her own to provide a special emphasis on women post-pregnancy, women and fitness in sport and women's football from grassroots up to elite level.
Since the covid19 outbreak, Russell has adjusted her sessions to online and is overjoyed by the positive response.
Her outlook in life has changed since the birth of her son Richard who was named after his grandfather. “As a mother, I have to continue to encourage, guide and be an example and support system for my son in all endeavours of his life. It has now been four years and I am proud to say that I was blessed with the opportunity to become a mother.”
Sending a special message to all mothers, she said, “I encourage those superheroes to prioritise self-care and become what they are to others to themselves. Happy Mother's Day, you are all superheroes, enjoy your special day.”