Commonwealth Games volunteers reunite with Caribbean athletes

COMMONWEALTH Games volunteers have travelled 4,000 miles to the tiny Caribbean island of Montserrat to be reunited with the athletes they looked after in 2014.

The Commonwealth Games volunteers meet the athletes they looked after at the training ground in Montserrat. Picture: Clara Pankhurst
The Commonwealth Games volunteers meet the athletes they looked after at the training ground in Montserrat. Picture: Clara Pankhurst

Mary Barber, Jan Grunberg, Clara Pankhurst and Maureen Whittaker had got on so well with the four sprinters and their coaches in Glasgow that they decided to pay them a visit.

To mark the second anniversary of the Games this weekend, aptly known as the Friendly Games, the volunteers reunited with athletes Arlen Skerritt, 26, and Lester Ryan, 23, chef de mission Valerie Samuels, coach Wilson Scotland and athletics president Bruce Farara.

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Sprinters Julius Morris, 22, and Alford Dyett, 22, are currently off the island studying to be architects – when not competing Arlen is an air traffic controller at the island’s airport and Lester works in the postal service. The tiny British Overseas Territory they represent was the second smallest team out of the 71 taking part in the Games.

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The volunteers also met the island’s Premier, Donaldson Romeo, during their recent nine-day trip.

Mary, who works in the media in London, said: “It was lovely to meet everyone again. Before the Games none of the volunteers had known each other or anyone in the Montserrat team. The Games brought us together and we had such a good time that we kept in touch.

“The team often spoke about their beautiful, tropical island, which was interesting for us, and we decided that one day we would visit. Even though they knew we were coming over, they were still surprised to see us.

“As we expected, the trip was amazing. It is a lovely island and the people are so friendly. A highlight was seeing the team’s training ground and meeting some of the junior athletes hoping to get into the senior squad.”

She added: “It is a long way from the UK to Montserrat but it was definitely worth the effort getting there.”

Maureen, who works for Excite West Lothian Leisure in Bathgate, travelled from Edinburgh to Gatwick before taking the eight-hour flight to Antigua with the rest of the volunteers. Due to a storm, they had to stay in Antigua the night. They continued their journey the next morning with an hour-and-a-half ferry ride to Montserrat.

There were originally five volunteers to look after the team. Susan Brown, who lives in Paisley, was unable to make the journey. Jan, who is a retired architect, travelled from South Croydon to the island.

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Montserrat, known as the Emerald Isle of the Caribbean for its resemblance to the coast of Ireland and for its Irish ancestory, is just 10 miles long and seven miles wide.

In 1995 the previously dormant Soufriere Hills volcano erupted and destroyed much of the southern part of the island, including the Georgian capital, Plymouth. Two thirds of the 15,000 population left, about 5,000 people still remain.

As part of their trip the volunteers were given a special tour of the remains of the former capital and the Montserrat Volcano Observatory.

Clara, who works with children in Weymouth, Dorset, said: “Through working as volunteers at the Commonwealth Games we have created new friendships and it has given us the opportunity to find out more about Montserrat and the team. I never thought I would come to the Caribbean and it was wonderful to be there.”

Mrs Samuels said she was surprised and delighted to see the volunteers: “It was lovely to see them again and especially as they had come to Montserrat. We hope to see them again soon.”  

During the Games, the volunteers’ duties included driving the team from the athletes’ village to the training ground or stadium where they raced in the 100m and 200m. They were also in the 4x100m relay in the lane next to Usain Bolt and the rest of the Jamaican team. Despite a great effort, the Montserrat sprinters did not get through the heat.

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Earlier this year, Julius competed at the USA Indoor Track and Field Championships and finished second in the 200m, with a personal best of 20.99s.