(Photos courtesy of Gavyn Nero)
Gavyn Jerome Nero, perhaps Trinidad and Tobago’s (T&T) most decorated athlete in the history of the CARIFTA Games*, is settling down well this Fall at Baylor University in Texas, USA. The 19-year-old middle-distance star is gearing up for a scintillating season in his new American playground: the indoor and outdoor National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) meets.
Leading the way at the 20
Nero (left) and
’s Kemroy Campbell go for the 1500m
record at Carifta.
Having displayed pure dominance in Caribbean middle-distance running at the junior level, Gavyn, the Fatima College (T&T) graduate, is now taking his show to Texas. Over the past four years, he has racked up a dozen CARIFTA medals. His crowning performance, however, came this year, when he erased a Games record that stood for more than two
The Port-of-Spain-born athlete has had numerous accolades and memorable duels with some of the best middle-distance juniors in the region. He ended his junior career on a high note by competing at the 2009 Central American & Caribbean (CAC) Games in Cuba and copping a medal. That aside, what many may not know about Nero is that he isn’t just track-sharp; he’s also book smart and blessed with the personality that’s bound to take him places.
Family, The Early Years
Gavyn, who has one brother (Garth), comes from a family of athletes. “My dad ran the 400m in the U-15 and U-17 for T&T before earning a Rugby scholarship to City University London, England,” he explains. “Two of my uncles, Anthony and Noel Nero, were world-class runners who represented Trinidad and Tobago at the senior level.” His dad, Curtis Nero, is also the chairman of the T&T Rugby Football Union and is the current manager of the T&T national rugby team.
With mother, Suzanne and brother, Garth after winning the CARIFTA 2009 4x4m relay.
Winner of the Austin Sealy trophey as the top athlete at CARIFTA 2006 in Guadeloupe. Nero took 3 gold medals.
The young Nero, who is continuing the family tradition, recalls how he got into track: “When I was in the 7th grade at Fatima College one of my teachers, Mr. Garnet Pierre, recommended that I do track and field and put me in the 1500m and 3000m race against kids that were up to two years older than me,” he remembers. “I came in 4th and that was the first time I felt that I could do something.”
He noted that he didn’t find the first races difficult, knowing that he had some speed and just needed to keep focused.
Between 2005 and 2009, Gavyn competed in the annual CARIFTA Games where he amassed 11 gold medals and one silver medal in the 800m, 1500m and 3000m races. When asked whether the lone silver medal haunts him, Gavyn laughed and said, “I remember that race like it was yesterday, I was 15 years old and that was my first CARIFTA 1500m in 2005 when I was inexperience. I was beaten by a mature Ian O’Connor from Jamaica. It haunts me a little but I can’t go back in time and I learned from it.”
Record breaking 1500m
So Gavyn saved the best for last, when at the 2009 CARIFTA Games in St. Lucia he broke the 23-year-old 1500m record with a stunning 3:47.56 clocking. The old record was held by Jamaica’s Anthony Christie since 1986. Reflecting on his performance, Gavyn recalls: “That was a very stressful day for me. It was my last CARIFTA 1500m and everyone expected me to do great. I put a lot of pressure on myself,” he admits.
“I cried before the race because one of my teammates, who was not expected to do well, got a medal and I was just so happy for her. I knew that my race would be coming up and after seeing my main rival, Jamaica’s Kemroy Campbell, winning his semifinal with such ease, I knew it would be tough in the final.”
Gavyn remembers that race as “one of the easiest races I have ever run. I was very surprised and excited that I got the record. I got so emotional that I started to cry,” he said. “This was by far my biggest victory ever. I sacrifice so much, I started my training late due to exams, I guess in some way I was over-confident going into the season. But Kemroy Campbell really inspired me. So much was expected of me and I did it. I was able to lower my personal best by 7 seconds.”
At the 2009 CAC Games in Havana, Cuba, Gavyn Nero decided to step up in class by competing against those senior to him in the 800m. He finished an impressive third behind the Cuban duo of Yeimer López (1:45.56) and Andy González (1:46.62). Gavyn’s time of 1:47.51 was a personal best, which fell short of the T&T’s junior 800m record of 1:47.00. “Although I set a personal best, I was a little disappointed that I did not get the record,” he said.
While Gavyn has been displaying speed and tactics on the track, his exploits in the classroom is equally impressive. With seven CXC (Caribbean Examinations Council) subjects to his credit and Physics, Chemistry and Mathematics in CAPE (Caribbean Advanced Proficiency Examination), Gavyn is surely paving his way to higher academic success as well as a career that’s not sports related. He wants to study mechanical engineering because he likes to see how things work and he likes to fix them.
Having been pursued by five US colleges (University of Florida, Georgetown University, University of Illinois, Louisiana State University (LSU) and Baylor University), Gavyn says that “Georgetown was my favorite and when I was ready to sign with them they were overbooked.
“I did not really consider Baylor because everybody knows that they are the Quarter-Mile University. The Baylor coach, Todd Harbour, saw me run only once when I broke the CARIFTA 1500m record in St. Lucia. But when I met him and talk to him, I could see it in his eyes that he wanted to coach me. I also have faith in his experience, so I signed with Baylor University,” he explains.
When the island teen arrived in Texas, he found it very hot and it was very tough for him at first. “But I’m adjusting well,” he says. “I have done so much training and running in the past two months since I am here than I have done in my whole life. I sometimes train in the mornings or in the evenings and on some days we train both mornings and evenings.
“I am feeling good and I have a lot of confidence in myself, my speed and everything. I will be running the distance medley relay in the upcoming indoor season and will pursue the individual 800m indoor and outdoor. I am in the best shape of my life. I will see what I can do in the upcoming season.”
However, Gavyn believes that it will be difficult for him to do both the 800m and the 1500m the NCAAs because of all the qualifying rounds involved. He prefers the 800m and with his personal best in the event, he has high hopes of doing well at a higher level. Does he dream of breaking Denmark’s Wilson Kipketer’s 800m world record of 1.41.11? Gavyn laughed with pure excitement as he responded: “Everybody has that dream of breaking world records and I am no different. Accomplishing a feat like that would be amazing. If I could get there, that would be something.”
Inspired by Jehue Gordon
The runner whom Gavyn admires most is another rising star and his compatriot, 17-year-old hurdler Jehue Gordon, who finished 4th in the men’s 400m hurdles final at the 2009 Berlin World Championships.
“Jehue was my training partner for three years; we were members of the same [elite Memphis Pioneers] track club in Trinidad. Over the past three years he wanted to give up track because he thought he was not good enough. But we encouraged each other and what he did in Berlin really inspired me. I am so happy for him.”
Gavyn also respects Grenada’s “wonderboy” Kirani James. “This guy is going to be a force in the 400m,” he predicts.
“I think that the Caribbean is catching up to the United States. The Caribbean always had great athletes and if given the chance, they will excel. Now, a lot more athletes are getting that chance.”
What Gavyn Loves
Gavyn’s taste in foods and music is truly basic and Caribbean. “My favorite food is callaloo with rice. My mother cooks the best cornbeef with rice and baked beans. On campus I sometimes cook my own cornbeef with rice and bake beans.”
He loves a range of music, too, from Soca to Calypso to Reggae and always listens to Soca before he races “because it gets me hyped-up.”
Gavyn not only runs track; he also participates in competitive cycling, triathlon and rugby. The recipient of the T&T 2008 Junior Sportsman of the Year Award even plays soccer “just for fun.”
*CARIFTA Games: An annual junior athletics competition founded by the Caribbean Free Trade Association (CARIFTA) and held in different Caribbean countries. First held in 1972, the Games consists of track & field events including sprint races, hurdles, middle-distance races, jumping, and throwing events, and relays. It has two age categories: Under-17 and Under-20. Only countries associated with CARIFTA may compete.