In 2008, three young women from the Caribbean stepped up to their running lanes to compete in the 200 m track event at the Junior World Championships, held in Poland. 23.52 seconds after the starting gun, Janelle Redhead, a 19-year-old from Grenada, crossed the finish line to take the bronze medal, milliseconds behind her fellow Caribbean competitors, Meritzer Williams from St Kitts and Nevis, who achieved silver, and Sheniqua Ferguson from the Bahamas, who finished first.
Janelle did not count on being on the podium: “I went in as the underdog, hoping to make the finals, but not expecting the result I achieved.” This is particularly poignant because Janelle had not had the same training opportunities as other young athletes. It was only after qualifying for the World Championships the year before, and after she joined her mother in Canada, that Janelle had begun to receive professional coaching.
But credit must go where it is due, and that would be to her father, a Grenadian footballer, and to her uncle, who had represented Grenada in track and field events in the 1980s. It was they who inspired and encouraged her to look at sports from the perspective of an athlete, and not just an amateur. “When I was 10 years old I started taking sport seriously, and they were behind me every step of the way.”
Janelle’s devotion to training was rather rigorous for a young girl. “I didn’t really have much time for a social life. I trained before, during, and after school. This is better than it sounds because teenagers on Grenada tend to live outdoors. It’s much safer being on your own in Grenada than it is in large cities.”
In some ways Janelle feels she put Grenada on the map with her World Championship achievement – and this was not the last time she would bring attention to her country. In 2011, at the 13th IAAF World Championships in Athletics in South Korea, Janelle was a semi-finalist in the Women’s 200 m dash.
“Many asked me about Grenada, most not realising it was part of the Caribbean. Today, I see a number of rising and talented athletes coming out of Grenada, and our tri-island nation is evermore the talk of the town.
“What is also wonderful is that when you compete internationally, the whole country is behind you. Whatever they are doing, when you compete as a Grenadian, your fellow countrymen and women stop their lives for a moment to cheer you on. This has meant a lot to me. I believe that if you support someone you don’t go halfway, you go all the way, and it works the same in reverse.” This is one of the aspects that Janelle believes epitomizes life in Grenada. “Welcoming, helpful, and supportive is how I describe Grenadians. What this leaves you with is a sense of respect, both for others and from others for you.”
Although Janelle now lives in Canada with her mother, she returns frequently to Grenada to visit her father. A few off-peak training years dictated by injuries meant Janelle could only recently return to full-time training. She intends to compete in the 2019 World Championships in Athletics in Qatar and the 2020 Olympics in Japan, hoping to participate in both the 100 and 200 m races.
“It’s a funny thing,” says Janelle, “but most of my peers in the track team are from the Caribbean, so we have common ground. They understand what it is like to come from a small island and lift yourself to the world stage. I’m proud of my heritage and humbled by all the efforts that my family made in getting me to where I am today.”