2 DEC 2019
Building up to the most important race of the year, it’s good to have no distractions. But sometimes that’s just not possible.
In September, as I was doing my final preparations for the World Championships in Doha, the Bahamas was hit by Hurricane Dorian, the most intense tropical cyclone ever recorded there.
My area, Abaco, was badly hit. I wasn’t there at the time – for most of the year I’m based in Florida – but all I could think of was my family, my friends, our home.
Abaco is a fun place: warm and sunny, one of those areas where everybody knows everybody. It’s a family-oriented place, great for vacations, and it has beautiful beaches. But in early September, people didn’t want to be there after the devastation of the hurricane.
More than 60 people died and so much of the island was damaged, without power for many weeks. When all that is happening at home, it’s hard to concentrate on athletics, but I had to.
The thing that put my mind at ease was a call from my Dad, telling me my family was safe. Our house is up on a hill so it escaped the worst of the floods, but the roof had been badly damaged so when it rained, the inside got soaked in water.
Until things got back to normal, my family had to relocate. Five of them came to join me in Florida, travelling over to the U.S. while I was in Doha for the World Championships.
Once I knew they were out of danger, I could get my mind back on the job.
It had already been a rocky season, one I had to start late because of inflammation in my achilles tendon. But when hiccups like that happen I don’t let them get the best of me. I stay focused, treat it, then come back stronger.
But I could feel the pressure.
My country was not in a good place after all that happened and I wanted to bring a small bit of joy to everybody. The aim was to bring home a medal.
I knew I was in really good shape, my mind was a good place, but to achieve something big you have to keep things simple. The day of the 400m final, I started off chill. I never like too much noise, so I kept myself somewhere quiet and tried not to think about the race.
My coach, Gary Evans, always tells me to have fun. He reminded me that I do all this in practice, “so just do it again.”
We train so hard that the race can sometimes feel like the easy part. Coming into the sport, I never liked the 400 but now that I’m good at it, it’s grown on me. The speed part is my favourite: doing reps from 250 metres and down in training. But my training partners are better on the long stuff – 450s, 500s, 600s, 800s – and when we run them, I’m always in the back.
I’m lucky to have good speed, but it’s the longer stuff that will allow me to reach my full potential. Even now, I’m still a long way off that.
But Doha was a step towards it. Before the final, my family told me to go out there and do my best, and that’s exactly what I did. When I came around the final turn I knew I was in a good place: “Okay, Steve, we got it. Just keep going, keep going.”
Before the race my coach said 43.5 was possible so when I saw 43.48 on the clock, the gold felt even sweeter.
Back in 2014, when I competed at the World Junior Championships in Oregon, I first started dreaming of becoming a professional athlete, of growing up to win a world title.
It took a lot of work, a lot of tough decisions, to get there.
I left home at 18 to chase my dream, and I missed the Bahamas a lot over the years. I got back to see my family whenever I could, and it’s strange how right now, because of the hurricane, they’re actually based with me in Florida. They’ll stay here until things are fixed up back home, which shouldn’t be too long with my Dad currently remodelling the house.
I haven’t been back to Abaco since the hurricane but I’m planning to visit this month. After Doha, we landed back in Nassau and while I was well known before, I soon realised that victory brought things to a different level. When I got off the plane everybody was celebrating, screaming.
I had an idea of what my win meant to those close to me while I was in Doha. The first person I talked to was my mother, and I knew my older sister Ashley would be going crazy too. After every race of mine, she always has the video sent to me before I even get to my phone.
The Bahamas may be one of the smallest nations but when one of us wins something, we all celebrate. I got emotional when our national anthem was played and the gold medal was draped around my neck, but only when I got back home did I see what it meant.
These days, I can’t really go to the grocery store like before because everyone knows me, and even when I try to stay anonymous, pulling my hat low over my face, people will come up to me: “I know it’s you.”
But it’s fine. I love everybody and no one ever wishes me any harm, so it’s all good. It’s always great to get home and see my family, meet my fans. It’s a reminder we do this sport not only for ourselves.
Because at times, what we do on a track can bring happiness to so many others.
Photography: Dan Vernon & Getty