‘Great experience’ for Ricks in Trinidad

Published 8:04 pm Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Keith Ricks didn’t win or medal at the 2009 Pan American Junior Championships in Port-of-Spain, Trinidad and Tobago last week, but it was a great experience, and many different experiences packed into a few days, for the King’s Fork graduate as he represented the U.S. against the best junior athletes in the Western Hemisphere.

Some of the best nostalgia from Trinidad and Tobago could be what happened apart from the competition. Ricks met a track and field legend, stayed in the same hotel President Barack Obama did a couple months ago and met the president of Trinidad and Tobago.

Ricks got to meet Ato Bolden, who’s a sporting hero of Trinidad and Tobago. Bolden won four Olympic medals, won the World Championship in the 200 meters in 1997 and was a former world record holder in the 200.

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The U.S. team stayed in the same hotel President Obama stayed at in April. George Maxwell Richards, the president of Trinidad and Tobago, happened to run into some members of the U.S. team, including Ricks, and introduced himself to the team.

“We just ran into him at the hotel,” said Ricks, “it’s was really neat.”

Even aside from the dignitaries, everything about the Caribbean nation was a memorable experience. Just getting from Suffolk to Port-of-Spain was unforgettable.

“It’s a funny story now,” said Ricks.

The U.S. Track and Field Team was meeting in Houston and departing as a team, but Ricks’ flight from Dallas to Houston was cancelled because of bad weather. Ricks flew to Houston the next day and on to Port-ofp-Spain, on the island of Trinidad, on his own.

Once at the Championships, the Trinidadian people treated the athletes great said Ricks.

“Any big event, everyone in the country seemed to know what was going on. It was televised in Trinidad. I think the whole island was aware and excited about it,” said Ricks.

“The people are very good. They were very supportive of what we do in the U.S. They admire how we do things, as far as athletics.”

“They told us things we needed to know, like place to try out to eat,” said Ricks.

On that last point, Ricks still appreciates all the hospitality, but will leave the Caribbean food for a time when he’s not running.

The food was okay, but not exactly the type of food needed to perform at an elite level on the track, said Ricks.

Ricks clocked in third, at 21.49 seconds, in his preliminary heat of the 200 meter dash, which missed out on the final heat by 0.07 seconds.

“I think I did pretty well. It was a great experience and completely different from any meet I’ve run in before.”

After running at King’s Fork, so in AAU summer meets around Virginia and the region, and after a year at Virginia Tech, which included traveling to meets in Fayetteville, Ark, Atlanta, Coral Gables, Fla. and Austin, Tex., one would think Ricks would be fine with heat and humidity.

“The climate, and I’ve been in Texas and Miami, but this was completely different. The temperature and the humidity, the climate was a big challenge. The coaches had us stay hydrated all the time to keep our bodies going.”

The U.S. team set a Pan American Junior record for medals won. The American team won 56 medals. Jamaica was second at the meet with 14.

“Seeing guys like that on the U.S. team, it makes me want to work harder,” said Ricks.

“It was a great team and a great experience to be with that group, with people at that level.”

“It pushes me to be the best athlete I possibly can be,” said Ricks.

For now, after his first collegiate season and a long summer schedule which included meets in Eugene, Ore. and New York before the Pan Am Championships, Ricks is getting a brief chance to recuperate.

“I’m taking about five weeks off. I’ll be going back to school on Aug. 20 and we have a new (track) coach (at Virginia Tech). I’ll be ready for whatever he has planned,” said Ricks.