|HOMELESS AFTER GLASGOW |
By JONATHAN RAMNANANSINGH Saturday, August 9 2014
TWO-TIME Trinidad and Tobago 110 metre hurdles Olympian Mikel Thomas, has been kicked out of his Florida apartment and forced to abruptly end his 2014 competitive season due to the unavailability of Elite Athlete Assistance Programme (EAAP) funds from the Ministry of Sport.
Ironically, Thomas received an email with the eviction notice from his landlord approximately three weeks ago, while en route to represent Trinidad and Tobago at the XX Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, Scotland. Sadly, this has been the case for Thomas since the start of 2014. Speaking to the athlete from his family’s home in New York yesterday, where he has been forced to take up temporary residence, after returning from national duty last week, Thomas revealed he has not received funds from the EAAP since May 2013. The EAAP was designed to help TT athletes prepare for major international meets by defraying costs for supplements, training, accommodation etc.
On June 7, Newsday published a story highlighting Thomas’ call for public assistance via a fund- raising website so as to attend the National Track and Field Championships in June. His plea carried the theme - “Help Keep the Dream Alive” - and was made on www.gofunddme.com. The 2013 national champion was able to muster funds and returned to TT to compete and bagged silver in his pet event. To date however, nothing has changed and the former national 110m hurdle champion is contemplating ending his professional career.
“My situation has not improved in any way and I have been forced out my apartment. I can’t make preparations for next season because of a lack of support and the amount of debt I am now in because of it,” an upset Thomas told Newsday.
“I did not have money and was unable to renew my lease. My rent was US$450 per month. I am at a point where even if I get a job now, it (the money) wouldn’t be enough. The time and commitment of being an elite athlete, makes it hard to continue. I have received no notification from the Ministry of Sport as to when funds will be available. I am in my physical prime yet because of no support from my country, I am at the point where I am considering leaving athletics,” Thomas said.
The 26-year old, who holds the national 110m record of 13.19 seconds, said he still desires to continue to train, compete and represent the red, white and black. But without financial assistance, this is near impossible, at least at an elite level. Thomas has even given up his car to cut his expenses and is using a bicycle as his main mode of transportation. He has not received elite funding since May of 2013.
Thomas said he is not the only TT athlete having problems with accessing Elite funding. He said other athletes while receiving funds, have not been given the full amount. The excuse for this, when athletes visited the Sport Ministry, was a miscalculation by someone.
Thomas last contacted the Sport Ministry in June and was told, “funds are unavailable.” No explanation was forthcoming as to why there was no funding available.
The 2009 University of Kentucky graduate, who prior to his eviction, used to be a volunteer coach at the University of Florida, continued, “I’ve run out of options. My only option now is to work and fend for myself. It’s disappointing. There’s an expectation to perform but no help in the process or development. I’ve shown how productive I can be with aid yet I can’t get an email (from Ministry of Sport) or call returned.
“I’ve followed procedures and done my part and all I ask is for the same nation I so proudly represent, to do theirs. Can you imagine how it felt to be kicked out your apartment while you’re at a tournament representing your country? It is a national duty and honor (to represent TT), yet I no longer have a place to call home. Is that right?”
At the recently concluded Commonwealth Games, Thomas placed fourth in his heat and thus did not advance to the semi-final stage of the 110m hurdles. He believes the email from his landlord stating he was evicted, had a negative impact on his mind set going into the race.
“I don’t think I was able to have the same mentality this year. It was a struggle each race and the pressure to have to run to make some money to eat...it took away from the joy of the sport and where you need to be. It became a weight and a cloud.
“Commonwealth was a bad race but we prepare to where our worst is better than the rest, or good enough to see another day. I wasn’t able to prepare that way this year,” said an unhappy Thomas.
Up to late yesterday evening, Thomas revealed that he is still trying to hold firm, despite his world crumbling down.
“I’m not asking for any big money nor am I trying to make the ministry or government look bad. But for those who can make a difference, please do. I bleed this, I pour out all I have for my country but how can you expect a man to compete with the best, if he can’t even eat or have a place to stay? We are ambassadors for our country. I’ve gone places where I met people who never even heard of Trinidad and Tobago. All I am asking is for the same people who I represent as an athlete, to support me and my efforts,” Thomas said.