National swimmer and Olympian Cherelle Thompson, like so many other athletes, has experienced first-hand, the physical, mental and emotional toll the covid19 pandemic has taken on the professional sporting industry.
With so many restrictions placed on the use of training facilities and the cancellation of numerous competitions, Thompson told WMN she is very concerned about the fallout it has had, especially among the young swimmers.
But, she believes in spite of what she may be experiencing right now, she has a duty to give back what 20 years in the sport has given to her – the experience, knowledge and discipline to try to weather any storm.
Beginning on February 5, Thompson will host the Rise and Thrive Swimmers Book Club for swimmers 13-17 in Trinidad and Tobago and throughout the Caribbean.
“This is my way of giving back to the sport and trying to find a way within the constraints of the pandemic to connect with the young people. When I am ready to retire I want to be confident that I have given back to the sport, in and out of the pool, by passing on the baton to the younger ones.”
The club members will meet on Google Classroom on Saturdays from 8-9 pm for eight weeks. Members will be required to read a chapter of Seven Habits of Highly Effective Teens by Sean Covey each week, and will discuss and share ideas on what they have read at the meeting.
“These seven key principles can be applied to any stage in their lives, in and out of swimming…We will also have group activities related to the chapter, in a fun and relaxed environment. The only cost they will have to incur is the cost of the book. RIK (book store) has graciously agreed to give a discount on the book to participants.”
Thompson, a member of Eagles Aquatics International Swim Club, said she got the idea for the book club when she came across a piece of paper on which she had jotted notes when she had read the book as a teen.
“Two key points that stood out to me then was about being able to recognise the things over which we have control and the things we do not – the circle of control and circle of concern.
“Essentially, right now we don’t have control with what is happening with competitions, online classes, etc. This is a bit of a challenge for even me as an athlete and a student, so I imagine it is the same for younger swimmers. What we can control are our responses and our attitudes.”
She said the aim of the club is to offer support to the young swimmers, and to keep them motivated and confident in themselves and their future endeavours despite the pandemic setbacks. Thompson said there is usually a high attrition rate for swimmers after 17, and she expects it to be even worse given the current climate.
“Athletes tend to fall away in 15-18 age group. Although there is no documented records to show this, it is observable. Additionally, fewer females then males participate competitively after the age of 15. I have been in this sport for 20 years and I have seen athletes with whom I grew up and who were earmarked to be top performers, fall away. Some didn’t make it to college, others made it but chose not to represent the country.”
At 29, Thompson is the oldest competing swimmer in TT and holds both the 50m freestyle short course (24.89 seconds) long course (25.39) records.
She has had her fair share of setbacks due to injuries, having to undergo two surgical procedures on the same shoulder over a four-year period.
“In 2012, just when I started college, I had one of the worst labral tears the surgeons said they had ever seen, on my right shoulder. They didn’t expect that I would have been able to compete much longer. But I was determined to earn my spot on the college team.”
The second procedure, she said, was done just prior to the 2016 Olympics in Rio and was just one of the reasons she was unable to compete that year.
She believes her experiences qualify her to be able to offer the juvenile club members tips on valuing their abilities and how to rise above the challenges during the pandemic and even after. She is also expecting the interaction to cultivate peer support among the young swimmers, and to equip them with practical actionable steps they can take and apply to set them up for success in sport and life in general.
“We will discuss how they can be proactive in giving and gaining all that they can from the sport. But the biggest thing is for them to know that they aren’t alone in what they are feeling. The mental strain is real, but it is where the battle must begin.”
Thompson is no stranger to mentoring, having worked with the online organisation Rise Athletes, in which older athletes volunteer their time and knowledge to offer mentorship and mindset training to younger athletes.
“Setting the right example and offering my support to those who are looking up to me is something I feel strongly about. I went to the Olympics in 2020 to represent my country, which was a huge undertaking for me. I had to rise above a lot, financial- and motivation-wise, while balancing school. I think because of my challenges, I’ll be able to relate to the struggles the young athletes are undergoing right now.”
Thompson has a first degree in kinesiology – the scientific study of human body movement – with a minor in nutrition, from the University of Tennessee, and is a second year medical student at the UWI. Her plan is to practice functional and integrative medicine, treating patients with lifestyle-influenced diseases such as hypertension and heart disease.
“I’m a foodie as well, so this way I’ll be marrying all my likes.”
Thompson has flown the TT flag at many regional and international sporting events, with Tokyo 2020 being her first Olympic experience.
“I have also represented TT at the Carifta Games, the Central American and Caribbean Games finals, the Commonwealth Games, and I am working towards participating in the Games (Commonwealth) this summer in England. I hold the national record in the 50 metre freestyle, and over the years I have broken records in the butterfly and breaststroke,” the 2010 Junior Sports Woman of the year told WMN.
She is excited about the eight-week journey with her young mentees, which she said will continue in other formats after the book club comes to an end.
“I have thoughts on other activities we can do later on because my support for the athletes will be ongoing. Now it is a book club, after that, hopefully, it will be something in-person.”
To join the Rise and Thrive Swimmers Book Club visit