Photo: The ageless Ricardo Cunningham points to his chest after qualifying to represent Jamaica in the 400m hurdles at the World Championships in London, England in August.
With no sponsors, structured training group or team, Ricardo Cunningham has only had a vision and dream and that is what drove him to finishing third at the just concluded Jamaica Administrative Athletic Associations (JAAA) 2017 National Athletic Championships in the 400m hurdles.
Cunningham crossed the line in a new personal best time of 48.83 seconds to secure third place and earn a spot to the upcoming IAAF World Championships to be held this summer in London.
The man who runs his own gym sessions at home and writes his own programmes, shares the view that while some athletes may have a lifetime of training in them, it’s never too late to discover the talent lurking within.
The athlete only began running the 400m hurdles in 2016, years after he was told by his youth mentor and the coach that brought him to the national spotlight way back in 2005.
“I was encouraged by one Mr Fullerton, an instructor, as far back as 2001, while participating a youth service sports day. It was however Mr Andrew Williams, the coach that guided me to the national title in the 800m in 2005, that told me to try the event (400m hurdles) because I have the right combination of speed and endurance,” Cunningham explained.
Despite being shocked by the time that came up on the clock, the 36 year old had no doubt of finishing in the top three at this year’s championship.
“I knew I was third, but I was dying to see the time. When it came up I was very happy. I was walking around hoping I wasn’t dreaming, I did it. I couldn’t event celebrate because I might have gotten emotional and I am that type, to get emotional,” he revealed.
The self coached athlete, whose older sister and former Jamaican quarter miler, Nadia Cunningham, has been one his biggest cheerleader, along with the rest of his family, was quick to point out that repeated criticism and ridicule could not dim his passion and focus on getting to this summer’s World Championships. He started receiving technical advice from Floyd Quarrie earlier this year, which has helped him bring down his time.
“My mother, sister, son- Ricanardo and my father they encourage me regularly to keep doing it and that I will make it. My daughter Brandy Kay told me to keep running until we both run together at a major games. She is now 12 and I told her when I was 33 year that am getting old and she said 45 is old. But I have made her a promise to keep going, I am not ready to depart.”
The former three-time national 800m champion, who in the past trained at the MVP Track Club, was free to resume his track and field career after it was halted in 2012-2013 by a positive drug test at the National Championships.
The case was brought up for an over the counter medication which had the banned drug pseudo-ephedrine. The athlete received a reprimand and avoided an otherwise lengthy track and field ban.
He will tell you today that it is that moment in time that has helped him to be stronger, more focused and more determined.
"The 2012-2013 incident taught me many important lessons; including to be careful about what you ingest in your body. That year also helped me realize how things and people can change and dig you deeper without knowing the facts. Frankly, it was my worst year in track and field in terms of the off the track issues, but I was encouraged by my effort when I ran 46.2 over 400m. I was never credited by IAAF with that time, but I had then made up my mind to leave MVP and do 400m hurdles, but I changed my mind then,” he explained.
Cunningham rebounded nicely and subsequently parted ways with his old club but kept pushing for his big break in the sport he grew to love. He now strives to inspire other young athletes to believe and to become whatever they dream they can be.
“My advice to others like myself is to be honest with yourself, trust your judgments and abilities. Most people won’t know your potential or capabilities yet they would rather choose your path for you. If you can do what it takes, then you can be successful. I am 35 and it never came to me at anytime to let people hinder me, because I honestly knew I had it in me and wasn’t fooling myself.”
The Vision Track Club owner, with his own self-drive and self-belief is eyeing the best of what is left of his time on the track and representing his country with pride and distinction. He is adamant it’s no vacation come London, it's serious business!
“I look at this chance to write my name in history as an athlete that represented Jamaica at one of the highest levels in track and field. I see this as a reward for every stride I ever took in my twelve years doing track,” he added. “I will just aim to get a season best or personal best, so I will clean up some weak areas technically and get prepared mentally for the championship.”
Cunningham will join the youngsters, Jaheel Hyde and Kemar Mowatt in representing Jamaica in the 400m hurdles at the World Championships in England.