The community of Mon Repos has been a heralded name in competitive sports in Saint Lucia over the years, producing outstanding sportsmen, especially in the fields of cricket and football. The youth in the community however has over the past few years embraced the sport of cycling. Not to say that it is something new to the area, in times past the community has produced at least one renowned cyclist in Sylvester James.
Among the new crop of riders are those who are definitely showing signs of great potential and the capability to progress and venture into cycling professionally, eventually representing themselves and country at elite levels. Of this promising category is Olivia Descartes who hails from La Pointe in Mon Repos. She was the winner of the award for Junior Female Cyclist of the Year at the National Sports Awards held earlier this year. I had the chance to sit and chat with Olivia, to understand a little about her love for cycling and how it all began.
“Well, I liked riding from a very early age. I always had a bike—as I grew up my mom bought me a different bike that she thought was suitable for me. Because of me always riding, my neighbor Ksha brought me into cycling.”
Ksha Norbert-Nelson was the lone female national cyclist in Saint Lucia within the period 2006-2009, representing the country in Caribbean Cycling Championships and receiving training in Switzerland and Cuba.
“She introduced me to Mr. Cyril Mangal, who is the President of the Saint Lucia Cycling Association, and he had me to do a few tryouts on the racers. He liked the way I rode, and asked me if I was interested in being trained and joining his cycling club,” she explained.
Olivia is 15 years of age, and a form four student of the Clendon Mason Memorial Secondary School in Dennery. She has participated in several road races and has done very well, winning in the female category and even putting in commendable overall performances.
“I have won about five or more competitions, finishing in first, second and third positions in both road- and circuit races. This year for the Independence Road Race I placed first in the female category and sixth overall. That was a great accomplishment for me,” she stated proudly.
I asked Olivia what was her mom’s attitude when she first made mention of her desire to do cycling.
“When I told my mom that I wanted to do cycling, she was very happy because she felt that I found something that I was interested in.”
And Olivia’s mom agreed and spoke in accordance to her daughter.
“When she told me that she wanted to ride I was indeed happy because I did feel that she found something that she was interested in. I too loved riding when I was growing up but quit when I started my family. I saw that she had a liking for bikes from the time she was little, so I always bought her a bicycle. Now that she has gone into cycling I am proud that I supported her because she is now being recognized for her efforts,” explained Miss Descartes.
Olivia says that when she found out that she had been nominated for the Junior Female Cyclist of the Year Award she was confident that she would walk away with the prize.
“When I found out that I was nominated, I was very confident that I would win the award because I felt that the only reason for being nominated was because everyone had seen and appreciated my efforts. And when I eventually won I knew my hard work had paid off,” she gloated.
I spoke to coach and Cycling Association President Cyril Mangal on Olivia’s development as a young cyclist.
“I met Olivia in 2006, when she was eight years old during a Summer Cycling Program. I must credit her mother who has always given her the support, and it just shows that in sports, if you start early enough you can be successful. There are not many girls in the sport. She trains with the guys and is doing better than some her own age. She is able to ride to Castries, successfully climbing the Barre De L’Isle in the process.
“We are looking at her performance and with a little more work I think she will be able to give a good showing at the Caribbean Cycling Championships in Suriname in October; and medaling in the 15-16-age category. So I have very high hopes for Olivia.”
Olivia has her dreams for the future, but had made it clear that cycling is definitely within the forefront.
“I would love to be a firewoman when I leave school but I want to ride competitively.”