On Saturday last the Caribbean athletics fraternity was sent into shock as a young Jamaican athlete, Cavahan McKenzie, collapsed following the completion of the Annual North American, Central American and Caribbean Area Association (NACAC) Cross Country Championships held at the Mt Irvine Golf Course, Tobago.
Interestingly, McKenzie, an 18-year old St Jago school student, was one of three Jamaicans who had completed the race and needed to be taken to the Scarborough hospital in Tobago. He unfortunately never made it to the hospital alive, having died in the ambulance en route.
There is much concern amongst the authorities in Trinidad and Tobago and NACAC that so many of the Jamaican junior team ended up in the medical room. This seems in stark contrast to the Jamaican senior team at the same competition. One can never be too careful in today’s competitive sport. Officials are hopeful that it was a heart condition and nothing more.
Some Vincentians may be old enough to remember the Bequia student attending the St Vincent Grammar School who collapsed and died in that institutions annual Road Relay several years ago.
The initial pronouncement in respect of the recent death of McKenzie is that there was some sort of heart problem associated with it.
Of course when such an incident occurs we are forced to reflect on the way things are done in and around this Caribbean and more particularly, here at home.
We are compelled to examine whether or not we are doing what is right in the way we go about the engagement of our people in physical activity and sport.
Physical activity and sport
Physical activity and sport are undoubtedly beneficial to the human condition. This fact has been chronicled in the annals of science just about everywhere in the world.
Like every other aspect of life however we do need to pay close attention to the attendant issues.
We have long since observed that physical activity and sport are not merely recreational subjects. They belong to the realm of scientific disciplines.
Additionally, physical activity and sport are important life skills. They aid in the development of the individual.
It is no accident that we are told of the importance of engagement in regular physical activity to our physical and psychological well being. These twin disciplines also aid in our capacity to do work and do it well. Physical activity and sport facility not only a healthy people but a much more alert and productive population.
Shape Up Australia observes, There are great benefits to getting even a small amount of physical activity each day, both mentally and physically. Being active gives you more energy, helps you sleep better, reduces the risk of depression and can help to prevent a range of chronic diseases (http://www.shapeup.gov.au/start-shaping-up/physical/getting-active).
The American Heart Association declares that physical activity boosts mental and physical wellness, engenders stronger immunity, reduces risk factors and prolongs optimal health of those who engage themselves in its manifold aspects.
Without regular physical activity, the body slowly loses its strength, stamina and ability to function well. And for each hour of regular exercise you get, you’ll gain about two hours of additional life expectancy, even if you don’t start until middle age. Moderate exercise, such as brisk walking, for as little as 30 minutes a day has the proven health benefits listed above as well as:
- Improves blood circulation, which reduces the risk of heart disease
- Keeps weight under control
- Helps in the battle to quit smoking
- Improves blood cholesterol levels
- Prevents and manages high blood pressure
- Prevents bone loss
- Boosts energy level
- Helps manage stress
- Releases tension
- Promotes enthusiasm and optimism
- Counters anxiety and depression
- Helps you fall asleep faster and sleep more soundly
- Improves self-image
- Increases muscle strength, increasing the ability to do other physical activities
- Provides a way to share an activity with family and friends
- Reduces coronary heart disease in women by 30-40 percent
- Reduces risk of stroke by 20 percent in moderately active people and by 27 percent in highly active ones
- Establishes good heart-healthy habits in children and counters the conditions (obesity, high blood pressure, poor cholesterol levels, poor lifestyle habits, etc.) that lead to heart attack and stroke later in life
- Helps delay or prevent chronic illnesses and diseases associated with aging and maintains quality of life and independence longer for seniors
Today we see many more Vincentians engaging themselves in some form of physical activity. The rapid-fire increase in non communicable diseases (NCD) and chronic non communicable diseases (CNCD) especially in the Caribbean and here at home has given us reason to pay more attention to how we live.
Our response to the fight against NCDs and CNCDs is good and augurs well for our future. We have to continue along this path and involve our children at a very early age to eat well and exercise often and stay the onset of obesity in particular.
We do however have to exercise care in what we are doing.
Growing up all of us would at some time been advised that whatever we do, regardless of how good it may ultimately be for us, we must take appropriate precautions and exercise moderation. Physical activity and sport are no exceptions.
We advise the importance of ensuring that before engaging in physical activity and sport individuals get a medical check up with their physicians. One cannot over emphasise the importance of knowing one’s physical condition prior to engaging in an exercise regimen, regardless of how recreational it may be. The risks are simply too great.
The older an individual gets the greater the weight placed on seeking medical advice before starting physical activity on a regular basis.
Even though we are aware of the dangers of a sedentary lifestyle it is nonetheless critical that we get some assessment of our physical condition and the limits that these place on what we can and cannot do.
Parents must be sure that they get medical checks with their children so that they are always aware of their health status. They should encourage their children to be physical active but be engaged in monitoring and evaluation through periodic medicals.
Schools and national associations must also work with their athletes and their respective medical commissions to facilitate periodic evaluations of their athletes.
For several years now Team Athletics St Vincent and the Grenadines has been appealing to schools and clubs to pay greater attention to the abuse and over use of athlete s both at their respective sport sports meets and at the annual inter secondary schools athletics championships.
Many of the foregoing competitions are conducted on a single day and some athletes are called upon to engage in multiple events without much rest between them. This is unfair to the athletes so pressed.
Not all athletes are prepared for the level of engagement witnessed at some of these events.
It is not by accident that at several of these competitions we witness athletes collapsing during events or at the conclusion of some events. This often reflects a lack of adequate conditioning for the particular event. It is worse when an athlete collapses after several events or worse yet, in several events in which he/she is engaged.
The advice of the medical personnel at some of these competitions is readily ignored as teachers and schools desire to win and bask in the glory of success or the athlete is him/her self independently motivated towards attainment of personal glory through athletic prowess.
The reality is that before these competitions the physical education teachers, principals, coaches and parents should individually and collectively facilitate appropriate medical evaluation relative to the training in which the athletes have been engaged and the physical and psychological requirements of the competition schedule on the day of the sporting event. Unless we have the persons associated with the athlete paying close attention to all of this we are really not doing him/her any good.
The medical team working with the Schools Games Committee has repeatedly complain about the types of medical conditions found during each athletics competition season. One is not at all certain that the complaints are taken on board by principals, physical education teachers, coaches and parents.
It is not just about immediate success. It is about the total well being of the athlete.
It is also important to note that what is being said here relates to participation in all sports, not just athletics. The same precautionary measures are required for football, cricket, netball and the rest. All sport and physical activity makes demands on the body and adequate training with periodic medical checks are essential to sporting success and well as a healthy lifestyle.
Here in St Vincent and the Grenadines we have been pleading for public liability insurance at our major sporting venues. These pleas have fallen on deaf ears.
The only time some of our facilities (for sport and recreation as well as culture) access public liability insurance is when the West Indies Cricket Board (WICB) procures it for international Cricket tours of the Caribbean.
At the local level it is virtually unheard of for any insurance company to eagerly engage in accepting and offering public liability insurance for our major sporting and cultural venues.
This means that we are at immense risk.
Should anything untoward occur at any of our major events we could possibly find ourselves in a very awkward situation.
The time has obviously come for us to address this untenable situation.
We must not be afraid of engaging in physical activity and sport. What is essential is for us to adequately prepare ourselves for it. Be sure to get started on the right foot by getting a medical check and engage in periodic visits to your physician as a form of continuous monitoring and evaluation.
Together we can be a fitter, healthier and more productive nation looking out for each other.
We do have a nation to build.