July 2015 came and Pan Am Games were upon us, the largest sporting event held in Canada even bigger than any of the 3 Olympic Games Canada has hosted. Trinidad and Tobago was sending a decent size team but we would all be arriving at different times, mainly based around when our events took place. The rule was 5 days before and then 2 days after said event. This meant that I would be in Toronto for the opening ceremonies but would not be present for the closing ones. I would be gone July 6th - 17th getting to walk in the opening ceremony on the 10th and then having my competition start on the 11th. The Pan Am Games are huge, they are essentially a mini Olympics for our region (North America, Central America, South America, and the Caribbean). They happen every 4 years and like the Olympics are a very prestigious event to attend, not to mention for most sports can be a direct Olympic qualifying event or provide points towards Olympic qualification, the latter is for badminton.
|Countries showing some national pride at the dorms|
July 6th rolled around and it was time for me to fly out, Trinidad booked my flight and I was off to Toronto thankfully just a 4 hour flight away. I arrived at Toronto Pearson’s Airport and was greeted with signs advertising the Pan Am Games and when I walked out was greeted by the assistant chef de masons and the camera of the official Trinidad Olympic Committee photographer. I got a snapshot and then made my way to the athlete transport to take me down to the village. At this point I had no accreditation and no Trinidad clothing. Adidas is the national sponsor for big games like this which meant that I was going to get a bag full of Adidas gear for the games. I jumped on the bus and behold who else is there but the Guatemalan badminton team and 2 of the Argentina badminton coaches. Upon arrival to the village they had to print out my credentials and then I was off to find the building that Trinidad was calling home. I met the chief du mason, Dion, and then afterwards was shown to my room. The only thing is that for games like this we get gear from the national sponsors which in our case is Adidas, only problem they had my bag in a car that wasn’t at the village. So I had no actual team gear and didn’t really bring much of my own stuff since I don’t have Adidas gear already and knew I wouldn’t be able to wear Yonex gear in the village.
|Me arriving in Toronto|
|My dorm room for the games|
|Player credentials, I wouldn't be able to walk around the village without this|
Finally later that day I got my Adidas bag and opened it up to reveal all the goodies that were inside. I got a bunch of shirts, tracksuit, shoes, bags, and lots of other stuff. Toronto also put together a welcome bag for us it was a nice little duffle bag that contained some souvenirs from our time at the games. Upon getting all this I felt an awesome sense of what I was attending and the games hadn’t even started yet at that point. I still had a few days until the opening ceremonies where I would get to walk into Rogers Stadium with all the other Trinidad and Tobago athletes as well as all the other athletes from the rest of the Pan American countries participating. The parade of athletes was something that I was really looking forward to and Trinidad had given me a nice red blazer to wear, albeit one size to large but still an honour none the less.
|Adidas gear from Trinidad and Tobago|
|Gifts from Toronto|
The next few days would serve as practice before the games kicked off on July 10th with the opening ceremonies and then I was set to compete on the following day the 11th in the afternoon. Before that there was a few things that needed to be done such as the flag raising ceremony but since not many trinidad athletes had arrived yet there was only 4 of us present and unfortunately it was pouring rain while all that was happening. Still great to be present to put forth a great face for the country as well I was able to meet our wonderful volunteers who would be helping us through the games.
|During the flag raising ceremony|
So another day passed and we came closer to the start of the games. We were staying in the athlete’s village which was located in downtown Toronto near the waterfront. Badminton took place out in Markham at the Markham Pan Am Center. On a normal day it was only about a 40 minute drive, thankfully we had bus transportation daily and a special lane for the games vehicles so we could mostly avoid traffic but it still took a while going and coming, we also got lost one night while going back the driver took a wrong turn and we were driving the opposite direction out to Brampton. The village itself was quite the amazing experience, you had the athlete’s living quarters, dining hall, gym, entertainment, as well as many other services.
|View of the athletes village from my dorm balcony|
The dining hall was where I spent the majority of my free time, it was open 24 hours a day and there was always lots of food and tons of athlete’s present eating. The selection was pretty good but when you are eating 7 meals a day there’s only so much variety that you can have and only so many chicken breasts you can enjoy (I use to eat at least 6-10 chicken breasts a day). The good thing was that after my competition was over I could eat whatever I wanted and the nice thing was the gym was also open 24 hours a day. It was the best combination due to the fact I could work out and then eat, rest, go workout again and then eat, having everything within walking distance. I am guilty of doing some late night (1am or later) workouts. There was also a games room that was in the village but it closed early and was always packed, it had a few pool tables, arcade machines, and various other games for the athletes to play. There were many other cool amenities for the athletes that were provided.
|Dining hall where I spent a lot of my time|
|Gym that was open 24 hours where I spent the rest of my time|
|The games room, it was always packed with athletes|
Then the day came, the biggest day of my life to date…the opening ceremonies of the 2015 Pan Am Games. July 10th marked the night the games would officially open for competition and we would have the opening ceremony at the Rogers Center with the parade of athletes and a show put on by cirque du soile. It was a long affair and started with us having to get ready early in the afternoon to line up and wait for the busses that would take us down, we took some team pictures and then after a lot of waiting loaded onto the busses. I brought my gopro with be to capture the actual event of walking into the venue. It was quite the feeling going to the Rogers center because the streets were blocked off for just the busses caring the athletes and there were tons of people lining the streets to catch a glimpse of us as we passed on the busses and even when we exited them. Things really started to sink in at that moment for me of how significant and huge a moment this was. I have never attended something of this scale and I felt honoured and amazed to represent my country at such a high level.
|The outfit we wore for the opening cermonies|
We went up to the country holding area and from this point on there was a lot of waiting to happen. Since we are Trinidad and Tobago, alphabetically we are near the end of the parade. Finally they started to call the countries and lines began to form, we moved and behind us was Uruguay and Venezuela followed lastly by the host nation Canada. When we were walking there wasn’t too many of us but we did our chant, Uruguay and Venezuela kind of beat us out there with how loud they were. Because badminton started the following morning I would not get to stay for the whole opening ceremony and would have to leave early. This meant that I would be at the back of the line unfortunately and not right up front to be seen on TV. Once we were in the tunnels you could hear the chanting from the other teams then we slowly made our way through it all and finally it was our turn. You could hear the crowd, just see slightly into the stadium through the opening. Trinidad and Tobago was heard over the loud speaker and we were off walking in following the flag bearer. Go pro recording I was not ready for what would happen next. Although I was there and physically walked around the half circle of the stadium it was such a surreal experience. All the people there cheering for us, for all the athletes it was amazing to be in that atmosphere and if I didn’t record it all would never have fully comprehended what happened. By the time I walked out the other side to go catch the bus back to the village I couldn’t believe that it actually happened. Later on I had to re watch the video and it gave me the same feeling of excitement and surrealistic experience.
|In the tunnels waiting to walk out into the stadium|
|Walking around the stadium|
Because I played early the next day it meant that I wasn’t able to stay and watch the whole opening ceremonies but I was able to see the fireworks coming off of the CN Tower from the athlete’s village. Not to mention I was able to re watch it all on TV with the ability to take bathroom breaks or do other things as opposed to just sitting in those hard chairs for the entire performance. That night I was still excited from the opening ceremonies but needed to get focused for my match the following morning. I would be the first Trinidad athlete to compete for the games. Because of this it meant that a lot of the executives and representatives for Trinidad would come watch me play. The chief du mason was there, the physiotherapy and team doctor were there, the RP for team Trinidad was there and tweeting about the entire event. This didn’t make me feel added pressure or anything though, which was a good thing. I was going up against the sixth seed from the USA Sattawat Pomagranitte. I had played him once before in 2013 second round at the Sao Paulo Brazil International Cup. This time it was an uphill battle from the start but I had the crowd support they knew I was the underdog and were cheering for me as I tried to slay the goliath which stood before me.
The match wasn’t as bad as the scores make it out to be, there were quality rallies and some good points by both of us. In the end I lost but learned a lot and gained some new fans. I was the first Trinidad and Tobago athlete to compete and unfortunately the first one to be eliminated from the games. Because there was nobody else sent that meant that I didn’t play mixed doubles or any other event. My Pan Am Games had come to an end. I stayed and watched the rest of my friends compete in their matches and then headed back to the village. It was a bittersweet moment knowing that I trained so hard for 4 years and it was all over in half an hour. At the same time it motivated me even harder to improve for the next Pan Am Games in 2019. I was to stay in the village until a few days after the last day of my event so that was a nice thing as it gave me time to explore and see Toronto as well as take in the games.
|The agony of defeat but the joy of being at the games|
Each county was given volunteers to help the team run errands and take care of business, Trinidad was no different as was assigned a crew to help them out. There was one girl named Aziza she was such an amazing person and actually took her own time to take me around and show me the sights and sounds of Toronto when she wasn’t busy with her actual work or working as a volunteer at the games. I got to see a lot of cool places and check out some unique sights in the city, for that I am forever grateful. Not only did I get to see those places but I also made a new friend. When I wasn’t exploring the city or watching matches, when I wasn’t eating in the dining hall or working out at the gym, when not enjoying all the amenities set out for the athletes I would simply be relaxing in my room. At this point Pan Am Games was tournament number 6 for the year and well into the 2016 Olympic qualification period that started May 1, 2015.