Bermuda is discovering new athletic talent miles from our shores, with three United States-born track and field athletes with Bermudian parents coming to the attention of the Bermuda National Athletics Association.
The large crowd at the Front Street Mile last month watched ten-year-old Ziza Russell win the primary girls’ title, later to learn that she is the daughter of former footballer Ascento Russell and has Bermudian status.
It is the same situation with Caitlyn Bobb, the daughter of Olympian Dawnette Douglas, and Nathan Armstrong, the son of former Commonwealth Games athlete Terrance Armstrong, who have both qualified for the Carifta Games in Cayman Islands next month.
“It’s absolutely fantastic that we have these athletes, especially whose parents were track and field athletes and are now performing well,” Donna Raynor, the BNAA president, said.
“This bodes towards the strength of our teams. With athletes living in the US and constantly being able to compete at such a high level they will be ready and tuned for the Carifta Games. This also makes our local athletes have to train and compete hard as there are only two spots in each event.
“If one is already taken they are fighting for that last spot or they have to run faster or jump higher than the other athlete. Of course, they are at a disadvantage as they don’t have the constant competition.
“This is exciting for us and we have developed great communication with the parents and they are excited that their son or daughter will now be representing Bermuda in their sport.”
Armstrong reached the standard in two distances at a meet in New Jersey last weekend, the 1,500 and 3,000 metres, while fellow 15-year-old Bobb achieved the mark in the 200 and 400 at an indoor meet in Pennsylvania last month.
“My parents and I discussed that this [status] was always something we should apply for and make sure my family has,” said Terrance Armstrong, a three-times winner of the Bermuda Half Marathon Derby in 2004, 2005 and 2006.
“Both of my sons, Nathan and Andrew, spend every summer in Bermuda with my family to learn their roots. This was always something my wife and I wanted, to make sure they had the opportunities I had growing up. I come home at least twice a year and I send the boys down every summer. They can show me around the island now!”
Armstrong has been living in the US since attending Rider College and then Trenton State College in New Jersey in the 1990s. His wife Marianne competed in the 400 and 800 during her college years.
“This has been great, to sit back and fall in love with the sport all over again through Nathan,” said Armstrong, now 48 and retired from competitive running.
“I’ll never forget when he was younger, we went on a run together and after we finished he said to me, ‘Why do you just run, it’s so boring’. I smiled to myself and said I will never push either of my boys to run, even though it’s in their DNA. Not only myself, but my wife was an All-American runner in college as well.
“Nathan is 15 and is a soccer player by heart. He is as good at soccer as he is with running, which scares me as he will have to decide sooner than later. I have allowed him to enjoy running and his love has grown tremendously.
“He’s experienced this amount of success on his own terms. We agreed I would not interfere until his junior year in high school, so basically, come next summer, I will be more involved in coaching and planning. Andrew is two years younger and probably won’t try it out until he gets into high school.”
Armstrong represented Bermuda at the Carifta Games, the Commonwealth Games and Central American and Caribbean Games, his favoured event being the 1,500, although it looks as though Nathan will favour the longer distances.
“I see him as a miler but he definitely likes to run the distance, so I think he is going to be a distance runner, like 5,000, when he gets older,” Armstrong added.
Armstrong still holds the national record in the 1,500, which he set in 1998 in Montreal (3:41.97), but two of his other records — the 3,000 and 5,000 metres — were broken by Lamont Marshall in meets in Jamaica and North Carolina in 2017 with times of 8:53.6 and 14:23.35.
Armstrong is a good friend of runner Jay Donawa and is the godfather of his son Justin, who was recently drafted by Major League Soccer side Columbus Crew. Armstrong has not ruled out running May 24 again. “I believe that could happen sooner rather than later,” he said. “I could be back home with Nathan and just run it for fun.
“He and I go out on runs together, he pushes me along. I’m going to get back into shape because I want to put some work in with him for when he goes to his junior year in high school.
“To win it three straights like that was nice and then to go out on a high note.
“I couldn’t put in the work at that point, age caught up with me!”