Meet the Caribbean Athletes Using Sport to Break Barriers for Their Countries

teniel-campbell-cyclist
Teniel Campbell. Image: Instagram/@Teniel_Campbell

In celebration of Caribbean History Month, we are recognizing some outstanding athletes who are breaking records and representing their respective islands on a world stage. These trailblazers have overcome so many obstacles to rise to the top of their sports including a lack of sporting facilities, economic limitations, and the difficulty of being “the first”. Not only are they making a name for themselves, they are qualifying and competing in elite competitions, including the Olympics, and showing out! Read on for their inspiring stories. 

Teniel Cambell: Pro Cyclist 

Image: courtesy of Teniel Campbell

At just 24 years-old, Campbell is one of the first Caribbean riders in the women’s WorldTour for elite professional cycling. She is a trailblazer as one of the first athletes from Trinidad and Tobago to race as a European-based professional and to join the WorldTour. After making a name for herself while competing in the Caribbean leagues, which usually have less than 10 women on the roster, she trained intensely for years to graduate to the more competitive European leagues. Cycling became her life and she fought to overcome the sport’s steep learning curve, European cultural barriers, and often being one of the few Black people out of hundreds in races. Campbell used the discomfort as motivation and began winning race after race. In 2021 she became the first Trinidadian woman and the premier English-speaking Caribbean woman to road race at the Olympics. 

Erin ‘Bionic’ Brown: ParaTriathlete

Image: courtesy of Erin Brown.

In 2021, Brown made history as the first Bahamian, disabled paratriathlete and Black woman to compete internationally with a disability named as the face of Royal Caribbean Cruise International (RCCI) and officially holding the prestigious title of ‘Godmother of Odyssey of the Seas’. These accomplishments are the light at the end of a long road for Brown, who developed bone cancer attending university in the U.S. To stop the spread of cancer, her left leg was amputated. After recovering, Brown returned to her roots as a lifelong athlete and began training rigorously to maintain her strength. She went on to train for Olympic qualifiers. She also launched the Erin Brown Connects Disability Advocacy and Inclusion Management, organization to advocate for the disabled and assist with job training, healthcare, sporting opportunities, and improve inaccessibility. 

Richardson Viano: Olympian Skier

Image: Instagram/@RichardsonViano.

Earlier this winter, 19 year-old Viano became the first Haitian to compete in the Beijing Winter Olympics. Viano, who was born near Port-au-Prince, was adopted by an Italian couple as a toddler, and grew up in France where he learned to ski. After finishing 35th at the 2021 World Championships, he qualified for the Beijing games. Originally, Viano planned to represent France in the games until an opportunity to partner with the Haitian Ski Federation arose. Viano was thrilled to represent his home country, provide representation and open new doors for the island nation. Previously, no other Caribbean alpine skier has ever taken part at the Games.

Mikaili Charlemagne: Olympian Swimmer

Image: courtesy of Mikaili Charlemagne (via Facebook).

In 2021, St. Lucian swimmer Mikaili Charlemagne broke her own national record while competing at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. She finished in second place, in just 26.99 seconds, a personal best and new national record in the women’s 50 meter race. As an 18 year-old dean’s list student at Springfield College, Charlemagne was thrilled to represent her home country of St. Lucia in the games and balanced her rigorous studies while training for the monumental event. Currently, she holds the St. Lucian record for both the 50 and 100 meter freestyle record. 

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