Little did Mayaro native Jaden James know that his bronze medal-winning 52.28-metre throw, in the Boys Under-20 discus at the 2022 Carifta Games in Kingston, Jamaica, would launch his collegiate career.
The 19-year-old Fatima College student is set to trade alma maters with top USA athletic school Louisiana State University (LSU) after he committed to them in April.
Days after his first international meet, at the 2022 Carifta Track & Field Championships over the Easter weekend, the call came from renowned throws coach Jerry Clayton, offering James a place on the coveted Tiger squad. Clayton -- coach to several world champions, Olympic medallists and 16 different individual NCAA champions over a 40-year career -- is still hammering out the details of that offer.
"It was quite a huge competition for me. I went in not knowing what to expect. Thankfully, I was able to medal still and all in all, it was a good learning experience," said the Fatima College Track and Field Club athlete. But James is also interested in the scholastic side of the collegiate equation.
His CAPE and CXC success coupled with his 1330 SAT score ensured the young athlete, who now lives in Maraval, received an academic scholarship. "That is of huge importance for me, people often mainly focus on sports and sometimes, there is no fallback. But I would like to pursue a career in electrical engineering."
"It is a huge step," James reacted to the news that he would be attending LSU. "LSU has a great engineering programme. As far as track and field goes, LSU is also an amazing track and field school, so I am excited to do it there under a great coach like coach Clayton."
James will be refining his technique and improving his athletic craft from one great coach to the next. Locally, James has been honing his craft six days a week, averaging three-hour sessions along with another throws athlete, Kerron Brown, under the results-producing, "throws maestro", Cuba-born, T&T coach Ismael Lpez Mastrapa Lopez, the man responsible for Team TTO's second Olympic gold medallist Keshorn Walcott.
James described Mastrapa as an amazing coach. "He knows a great deal and I don't know how to put in words...he has been the man who coached me in technique for quite a while and in my strength training. He has been pivotal in my development," James explained.
Mastrapa, currently accompanying Walcott on a European circuit as they prepare for the July 15-July 24 World Athletics Championships in Oregon, USA, is sure why James has been able to jump to the medal rostrum after only picking up the sport four years ago.
"The main traits that make Jaden a good athlete are his discipline and dedication. Also, he is a very hard-working athlete. He continues to train hard and very seriously, every day," said Mastrapa, adding that James' development suffered through his first two years lost in the majority to the restrictions on training due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
"He was unlucky...it hindered his development a bit and he missed out on his first two years as a junior. But in a short period of time he won the bronze medal in Carifta and also qualified for the Pan Am Junior Track and Field Championships," Mastrapa said about the competition that has been cancelled due to Covid-19 concerns in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. "But overall this year for him has been good."
Besides his consistency and willing approach to training, he is influenced by a positive role model and someone who knows a thing or two about throws in general; his godmother Cleopatra Borel, a former Mastrapa athlete herself who excelled in the shot put at regional and international level.
"We were quite close and I am accustomed to seeing her going to training and she was always around. Eventually, when I got involved, she was always there as a guide and mentor and she continues to show me the better way to do stuff and not to make some of the mistakes she made," James said, echoing her advice to focus on technique more than strength.
As with any athlete, James dreams of reaching the Olympic stage one day. Firstly, he will focus on the World Athletics Junior Championships in Clain, Colombia, in August, where he hopes to improve to a 56-metre throw. Then that will be potentially followed by a progressive collegiate career at LSU before James can even contemplate emulating the feats of his idol, Jamaican Federick Dacres, the 2019 world men's discus silver medallist.
"The future, It is very hard to predict," Mastrapa said of James. "...if he continues training seriously, I think that he can throw far because he has the capability to throw far. He still has to learn a lot of things for the discus throws and he has many things to improve in his technique but that will come through the years."
Mastrapa would know...