Olympic swimmer Cherelle Thompson on Thursday encouraged TT athletes to seize the moment, as she spoke candidly about her struggles with injury, adapting to college life and trying to stay positive during the covid19 pandemic.
Thompson, 30, represented TT in the women’s 50-metre freestyle event at the 2020 Olympics, which was held last year because of the pandemic. She is the national record holder in the women’s 50m freestyle for both the long course (50m) and short course (25m).
Thompson, a former student of the University of Tennessee, delivered the feature address at the TT Olympic Committee Annual Awards.
Reflecting on her challenges, Thompson said, “We all know the pursuit did not come without threat to the life of my dream. It was many years before I could make it onto the Olympic stage and time would not permit me to share the details of the chapters from that defining moment to the point where I would make it to the blocks in Tokyo.
Faith also got the TT swimmer through dark times. “What I could say though is that it was a long, long road with many defining moments and it was only through reflection that these experiences, by the grace of God, I was able to find reasons to be grateful and wonder amidst the ashes of disappointment and difficulty.”
Thompson said her first "last straw” was a shoulder injury which a surgeon said was “one of the worst they had ever seen.”
On her experience studying in the USA while advancing her swimming career, Thompson said it was not a bed of roses. “I cried buckets of tears being homesick and (not) finding a way to adapt to the new demand of academics and athletics.”
The adversity did not end there for Thompson. “The second shoulder injury came some time after, then major disappointment and retirement (temporarily), sitting out for some time after missing out on Rio (Olympics) 2016."
Covid19 had put the careers of athletes on pause and Thompson was no different.
“Let’s fast forward to March 2020 to that time in history. Imagine what it would have felt like when the announcement came for the postponement of the Tokyo 2020 Games. I was set to begin medical school later that year and the world was in a state uncertainty with a glimmer of hope that things would improve for the games to be held 12 months later (in July/August 2021).”
Thompson saw her dreams fading. “At this point I was convinced that I had no more straws. All I had was a dream in my heart and a passion for sport, and I placed that into God’s hands. The rest is history.”
Thompson made her Olympic debut competing in her strongest event – the 50m freestyle – placing 41st overall with a time of 26.19 seconds.
She urged all athletes to cherish every moment. “The question that none of us could answer is whether this would be our last competition, our last season, our last breath. All things considered, we know not what the future holds…take each opportunity to compete and engage in this thing called sport as a gift.”
Looking ahead to 2023, Thompson said, “No matter the stage of our journey, may we all transition into 2023 with our minds fixed and fortified, our bodies prepared to fight, and in our hearts a posture of gratitude and wonder to seize each moment as it were our last.”
Thompson also thanked retired two-time TT Olympic swimmer Sharntelle McLean for inspiring her.