While we are on the topic of the Olympics, we have two Paralympians gearing up for late August in London.
They seem as different as night and day. The 17-year-old swimmer from Gasparillo Secondary who loves the butterfly stroke and the 43-year-old power-lifter who turned down a recent event where he was sure to medal again don’t appear to have much in common. Together, this dynamic duo, Shanntol Ince and Carlos Greene, share unshakeable determination and a common goal: to bring home Olympic medals for T&T. As the world focuses on the upcoming Olympics, they’ll be winding up their training for the Paralympics, which follow the Olympics in London from August 19 to September 9. Ince and Greene, sponsored by British Petroleum Trinidad and Tobago (bpTT) will represent T&T in those games. Ince will swim the 100-metre fly, 100-metre backstroke and 400-metre freestyle, and Greene will enter track and field competition for the discus and shot put. It’s the first time in 24 years that this country has sent athletes to the Summer Paralympics, but the local Paralympic organisation is back on track again. Ince and Greene feel proud to represent our country as athletes. “It’s an honour,” says Ince. “I consider myself to be a patriotic person,” says Greene. “I’m honoured.” Representing T&T as an athlete means hard-core training. For Ince and Greene, there are additional challenges. Ince was born with a significantly shorter right leg. Her flexed right foot barely passes her knee. Greene is blind. Those are challenges—not obstacles—for these two athletes. But they both have to step up their game for the Paralympics.
“They have to train just as hard as any other athletes,” says Colin Sebright, Ince’s strength-training coach at the Fitness Centre Gym in Starlite Plaza, Diego Martin. There, clients stop to marvel at Ince’s physical feats. She removes her leg prosthesis for training and swimming. She skips rope with a variety of intricate moves that most people can’t do with two legs. She practises explosive starts, kneeling on the floor and pushing off with a barbell threaded through a TRX, a Navy SEAL’s device used in suspension training. She flies through the air and lands on one foot. “She never misses her training,” says Sebright. “Her determination is admirable.” Her gruelling schedule includes two hours of training in the gym and two hours of swimming with coach Franz Huggins at Marlins. On Saturdays, there’s music practice and dance practice and Girls’ Brigade at her church. She devotes Sundays to church. Ince began swimming in Jay’s Private School at the age of four and was swimming competitively by the age of eight. “Growing up, I took part in everything—I swam, danced, played netball—anything physical, I was in that, ” said the quiet, pensive teenager with an uncanny ability to focus. “There is no difference between her or any other swimmer I coach,” said Huggins. “What sets her apart from others is her determination. She is willing to work hard, and she never complains.” It was two years ago that Ince saw a DVD about the Paralympics called Spirit in Motion. It changed her life. “I was inspired. I wanted to represent Trinidad and Tobago,” Ince said.
She has represented T&T and won gold medals in swimming events before, but not on the international scale of the Paralympics. Still, the race she remembers the most is the 2008 Open Water race here in T&T, a swimming marathon at Maracas Beach. “It was my first time swimming at Maracas. It was scary and I was praying to finish the race. You’re in the water, not seeing land, you feel there might be sharks. “When I finished, I was in the top eight for women. I’ll never forget that race,” she said, with a sense of control that seems to define her every move.
Ince describes herself as “ordinary, intelligent and hard-working…I am willing to work twice as hard to be on an ordinary level with other people.” Her determination has always helped her to thrive rather than survive. “It was challenging growing up. People used to stare at me and laugh. My parents always told me, ‘Don’t let anyone or anything discourage or dishearten you.’”
Her parents, St Paul Ince and Tracy James-Ince, always told her, “You’re special,” and instilled an unshakeable sense of confidence and spirituality in her. “They told me no matter what, the Lord is always there for me.” She dreams big and works toward lofty goals, from sports to school. Next year she’ll be studying sociology, biology and chemistry at CAPE level. She wants to be an occupational therapist some day. Ince is proof that there are no hurdles that can’t be conquered in life. Her advice: “Put God first in everything. Make sure you have the right support—the right company that will build you up and support you. Don’t worry about the past and what happened in the past. Believe in yourself and know you can do it.” Shanntol Ince believes nothing can keep her back in life, and she knows she’s a winner.