Sat, Jul

When times are tough or things are going woefully awry, it is then that folks tend to learn the most about themselves and others around them. In other words, when the chips are down and your mettle is tested, you find out exactly what you are made of.
Having to deal with disappointment is part and parcel of being human and, just as sure as a politician will tell lies, during ones lifetime this emotion is one everybody will experience at a number of junctures.

Adversity, though, seems to have a way of bringing the best out of some people and as the saying goes - “only the strong survive”.

Shahdon Winchester is testament to this. The Naparima College standout has been turning heads in the Secondary Schools Football League (SSFL) since making his debut for “Naps” as a tenacious 12-year-old in 2004.

This year, he lit the competition ablaze, scoring 16 goals on the way to leading “Naps” to another South Zone league and Intercol double, as well as the coveted BGTT Big Five crown.

His searing pace and mesmerising dribbling skills make him a constant threat to rivals on the football field, while an insatiable hunger for success ensures that he will fight to the last to see out any task set before him.

But prior to all Winchester’s headline-grabbing exploits in the SSFL, he was forced to tackle one of life’s harsh realities and the battle to overcome it when he lost his dad. Shahdon was just 10 when the man responsible for nurturing his love of football – Derek Winchester – died in a vehicular accident.

Although it has been six years since the elder Winchester’s passing, every time Shahdon plays he is driven by a desire to make his father proud and not a day goes by in which the Princes Town native doesn’t wonder how his dad would feel about his development both on and off the pitch.

“I think about him a lot, especially when I’m playing and even more so if we lose. I study how he would feel about of my performance, if he was happy with it or not.

“He was the one who got me interested in the sport because he used to carry me to watch a lot of matches,” Winchester said.

After her husband’s death, Shahdon’s mom – Svetlana Winchester – took up the mantle and made it her responsibility to ensure that her young son was not denied the opportunity to pursue his football dreams.

As a matter of fact, so committed was she to the cause that Svetlana, who did not know how to drive, decided to take driving classes and apply for a permit just to be able to drop and pick up Shahdon, the eldest of her three children, from practice at the club his dad enrolled him in – Couva outfit W Connection.

“It was a rough period for us, but everyone always used to tell me how good a player he was and if you give Shahdon a chance, he is the type who will play football whole day,” she joked.

“Having to work and be the home-maker was difficult at first but he was always a good and obedient child and I saw how much he loved football so it was an easy choice for me to make really. And fortunately for me I got help from his uncle and sometimes his cousins because they would carry him to practice when I couldn’t,” she added.

Even though he is 16 now, Winchester’s mother is still very active in his football life, ensuring he is up on time when he has early morning practice sessions and readying his gear whenever he needs it.

And this continued devotion over the years has began to bare fruit as Winchester is currently a key member of the T&T Under-17 team vying for qualification for the 2009 Fifa U-17 World Cup in Nigeria.

“Seeing how dedicated she is just makes me feel that I have to push even more. It makes me want to work harder,” he said.

Unfortunately, “Naps” failed to defend their national Intercol title, but Shahdon will have little time to dwell on that as he now has to focus on national team duties. He and his teammates will leave for Mexico in April, when the final round of qualifiers are scheduled to take place.

T&T are uncertain who they will face in Mexico as the tournament’s organisers are yet to decide the format in which it will be contested. One thing is for sure though, and that is whoever the local lads come up against, with Shahdon Winchester in the team they have an excellent chance of achieveing their goal.

You can even expect to see a couple opponents getting dribbled out of their boots as well, as he is an avid admirer of Brazil’s dribbler extraordinaire - Robinho.