COVID-19 interruption breaks heart of long jumper Damar Forbes

Observer writer

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

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Former Jamaican long jump champion Damar Forbes was ready to return to action this season in an attempt to reclaim his throne after being out of competition for two years due to a series of injuries before the season was interrupted by the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, a situation he described as “devastating”.

Forbes, who has represented Jamaica at all major international competitions since 2012 when he won his first national title, said, “I wouldn't say I was completely ready when the news broke, but I was very confident in my training and I knew the more competitions I had the better I was going to get. The news of COVID-19, honestly, devastated me because I have been out for so long and was itching to get back into competition. Now I feel like a year out of my career is just gone, coupled with two years of injuries that cut my season short made it all overwhelming at times. A track and field athlete's career is fairly short so to take a whole year away is just crazy but we understand why,” he told the Jamaica Observer last week.

The athlete, who turns 30 in September, won five-straight national titles between 2012 and 2016, and after struggling in 2018 and 2019, says he is not ready to throw in the towel just yet despite the emergence of a battery of brilliant younger jumpers led by World Champion and national record holder Tajay Gayle.

The US-born Forbes, who has roots in St Ann and has won the National Collegiate Athletics Association (NCAA) Men's Outdoors Division One long jump title while attending Louisiana State University (LSU) in 2013, flew the Jamaican flag for a long time and was expected to take up the mantle that was left behind by James Beckford.

In his absence, Gayle, two-time national champion Ramone Bailey and a battery of young jumpers based in the US led by Carey McLeod, Jordan Scott, Odaine Lewis and Obrien Wason as well as World Under-20 bronze medallist Wayne Pinnock, and local based Shawn-D Thompson, have all staked their claims.

Forbes, who is trained by Irving “Boo” Schexnayder and still trains at LSU, welcomes the growth in Jamaica's men's jumping. “Competition is good for every country; it makes you elevate your game, so I do not shy away from it. I am glad Jamaica's horizontal jumping has grown the way it did and I'm ready to compete with everyone of those guys. I am confident in my abilities as an athlete and always feel like I'll be able to maintain my place on the team when healthy. If I didn't I wouldn't be competing.”

Forbes watched on as Gayle pushed the Jamaican national record of 8.62m, set in 1997 by Beckford, to 8.68m in Doha last year, but said he is not daunted. “Records are made to be broken and as long as the world record is still 8.95 metres everything is still within my reach. You never you where life brings you.”

However, his long lay-off has affected him. “Yea I have been on and off the circuit for the past few years due to various injuries, starting with a calf tear early 2018 during the indoor season. It took me a couple of months to get back from that and later that summer I strained my hamstring on the same leg. This was because my body was overcompensating for my calf not firing correctly, which ended my season.”

He claimed that not being able to afford a physiotherapist the next year also held him back. “In 2019 I was training very hard and I wasn't able to consistently see a physiotherapist to work out the muscle tightness my body was experiencing. I had already missed out on so many paid competitions, seeing a therapist regularly wasn't financially possible. That year I had many things ailing me but a plantar fasciitis which happened at the Jamaican Trials, is what took me out for the season,” he said.

It was difficult for the jumper that flew the Jamaican flag on the international circuit for years, to sit and watch the sport he loves and not being able to compete. “It was very frustrating, but it made me realise how quick it all could go. After 2019 happened I started to make more business-oriented moves, just to create an avenue where I could fall back on if injuries continued to happen,” the two time Olympian said as it forced him to rethink his future.

“I always refer to it as a blessing in disguise because I was so focused on track I had no time nor did I want to think about anything else, but because the injuries forced me to look past track I had to change focus a bit.”

Forbes, who has two wins on the Diamond League circuit, was virtually the lone Jamaican male horizontal jumper on the international circuit between 2012 and 2018 with a string of appearances in the black, green and gold, including appearances at two Olympic Games in London in 2016 and Rio in 2016; three World Championships — 2013 in Moscow; 2015 in Beijing, and London in 2017; the World Indoors in Sopot in 2014, as well as two Commonwealth Games in Glasgow in 2014 and Gold Coast in 2018.

He was confident he was on the right track before the outbreak of the novel coronavirus. “Yes this year I did more research and I finally felt like I had the right team of coaches and physio around that I could go to. I started to prioritise my health more and training was going well.”

He laughed when asked if he accepted the “elder statesman status of Jamaican jumping”.

“In some ways I do, which is why it's great to see the younger ones come up and do great things. Everyone has a journey in life and some are easier than others, it's all about perspective. I'm willing to go through what I have gone through if it means I get something worthwhile in the end, if not I will cherish the journey itself. Perspective!”

Forbes says he is not setting any time table on his career but his body will tell him when it's time to go. “I think I have a few more years in me. I don't have a time limit but once it becomes more of a burden than joy, (and it has gotten close at times) that's when I will walk away. But until then I'll be on the runway.”

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