Bahamian Athletes Compete for Opportunity and Home Country
Nearly 1,000 miles and a sliver of the Atlantic Ocean separate Murfreesboro, North Carolina and the Bahamian Islands. Many know the string of more than 700 islands scattered across the vibrant Atlantic blue for its food, music, art, and tourism industry. Bahamian culture is a unique mashup of influences from countries like Africa, England, the United States, and South America. Indeed anyone who has had the chance to visit one of the islands has experienced the beautifully rich and diverse clash of cultures on the edge of the Caribbean and the Atlantic.
An estimated 400,000 people inhabit the Bahamas, primarily populated in two cities on separate islands, Nassau and Freeport. An estimated 77,000 students make up both the state-operated and private secondary schools in the island nation. Six of those roughly 77,000 students have made their way across ocean, land, and cultures to find a home at Chowan University. Those six student-athletes are spread across the women's golf and swimming teams and hail from both the capital city of Nassau and the second largest city in the Bahamas, Freeport.
It's not hard to miss this talented group of athletes. They typically travel together around campus, speaking a dialect known only to them when in their own company. "Bey me too?", "What da wybe is?", "I straight!", or "Everyting cool." They check on each other throughout the year, make sure they have what they need to survive so far away from home, including gear to make it through the seasonal weather in North Carolina.
When asked what was the biggest adjustment to college life in North Carolina, all six being interviewed exclaimed in unison, "The climate!" North Carolina is known for experiencing all four seasons, including a winter that these Bahamians were not totally prepared for.
"None of us had winter coats," said Megan Reid, a rising senior on the women's swimming team.
"We had the warm-up jackets we got as team gear, but no heavy winter coats," added Keitra Lloyd, also a rising senior and who along with Reid, were a part of the inaugural freshman class for the women's swimming program.
All of the athletes saw their first snow while on campus. But these athletes came to Chowan with a purpose, to excel in the classroom and compete in their sport and that has helped push them through any weather or adversity that they have been faced with.
Not only do these six student-athletes excel in their respective sports, but they also stand out in the classroom. All six student-athletes are members of various honor societies on campus, the president's and dean's list, and leaders in campus clubs and activities.
"We started school when we were three years old," said Jasmine Gibson, a rising junior on the women's swim team. "We also were raised with the British education system which has given us all a good foundation for college."
"The (Bahamian) educational system helped prepare me morally and gave me the skills needed to be successful academically at Chowan," stated L'Leah Laing, the only graduated Bahamian in the Chowan group. Laing finished her school work in three and a half years and walked with her class on May 11th. The Freeport native was garbed in honor cords and medals from the various academic honors she received while attending Chowan. She was one of the team's top female golfers and the first Bahamian athlete for the program.
"We also want to make our country and our home proud of what we do in the classroom," continued Inecia Rolle, a rising senior on the women's golf team. The Nassau native competed in the PGA Works Minority Tournament in Florida to wrap up the 2019 athletic season. She finished 7th in the individual field.
Reid and Lloyd were recently inducted into Chi Alpha Sigma, the National Student-Athlete Honor Society, which required a staunch 3.4 cumulative grade point average for membership. Rolle and Laing are also members of Chi Alpha Sigma, and newcomers Gibson and Jeleah Delancy are on pace to be members in their junior years. Gibson and Delancy are also both members of the Chowan University Honors College.
Several Chowan coaches are looking to create a pathway from the Bahamas to Chowan for athletes, with these six helping to pave the way.
"It's hard to be recruited from the Bahamas," said Reid. With all others in the interview nodding in agreeance, "We had help to get here. For me, it was one of my teachers and mentors, Wayne Smith. He helped to make the connection with Matt Hood (former swim coach at Chowan)."
"There is so much talent in the Bahamas in a lot of sports," said Lloyd. "We are all competing in our sports in hopes that we can get recruited by colleges."
"I heard about Chowan through an email connection with Coach Matt," said Delancy. "It was much easier to commit knowing that others that I had competed with at home were already here."
Getting to Chowan is not an easy process for Bahamian athletes. There are no FAFSA opportunities and each year they have to apply for a student VISA to attend a school in the States. Before they return home for the summer, they are faced with finding local places to store their dorm room contents because the cost to bring back to the Bahamas on a plane is so high.
"All of us worked to find scholarships through industries back home," said Reid.
"Sometimes as a Bahamian, you can find a private industry scholarship or internship that helps to pay for college. Once you graduate you have to return to the Bahamas to work for that industry," continued Lloyd.
Despite the tedious process to get here, once here, the Islanders compete with purpose and intention in both the classroom and in their sport.
"I want to take what I have learned here back to the Bahamas and apply in an educational setting," said Gibson, an education major. "I want to have an impact on children in my home country."
Laing continued, "I have learned so much through my education here. Golf brought me an education and so many experiences on and off the course that I will cherish.
Delancy hopes to work in healthcare administration once she graduates from Chowan and help the infrastructure of the hospital system in her hometown of Freeport.
Lloyd will look for work in the banking industry once she graduates from Chowan. "The banking industry is on the rise in the Bahamas and there are opportunities there. I want to take what I have learned here and apply it back home for sure."
"I will continue to encourage more of the youth to play golf as well and tell more people about Chowan, a hidden gem," said Laing.
It's apparent that each of these student-athletes has taken advantage of the opportunities that they have been given and not taken anything for granted. They also compete with Bahamian pride that each one of them boasted about.
"We want to make our country proud," said Gibson.
"The Bahamians, whether they know us personally or not, are proud of us. They want us to do well and represent our country well," continued Reid.
Rolle added, "We are here to make our country proud and represent the Bahamas. We are all doing the stuff we love to do and at the same time being ambassadors to our country."
"We have learned so much from our sports. Respect, teamwork, humility, and time management," said Reid.
"Social skills," added Gibson.
"Perseverance, because failure comes," added Lloyd.
"Using our time productively," Rolle added.
"Persistence," said Delancy.
It is obvious that Chowan is lucky to have these student-athletes in the ranks. They each work and compete with purpose, intention, and with pride while maintaining their island spirit in this small piece of North Carolina.
While miles and ocean separate Chowan University and the Bahamas, these six student-athletes create a colorful bridge for all to walk and experience their beautiful culture and personalities. Not only do these student-athletes make their home country proud, they make Chowan proud too.
Meet the athletes:
L'Leah Laing: Graduated May 2019, Women's Golf, Sport Science and Exercise Science Major (Freeport, Bahamas)
Megan Reid: Rising Senior, Women's Swimming, Sport Science and Exercise Science Major (Freeport, Bahamas)
Keitra Lloyd: Rising Senior, Women's Swimming, Business Major, (Nassau, Bahamas)
Inecia Rolle: Rising Senior, Women's Golf, Psychology Major, Counseling Concentration (Nassau, Bahamas)
Jasmine Gibson: Rising Junior, Women's Swimming, Education Major, (Freeport, Bahamas)
Jeleah Delancy: Rising Sophomore, Women's Swimming, Business Major (Freeport, Bahamas)
For more information on Chowan University and to follow these student-athletes throughout their respective athletic seasons, log onto the athletics website at www.gocuhawks.com.
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