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From the brink
NATIONAL PRIDE: Rae-Anne Serville, left, and coach Antonia Burton celebrate Serville's North American, Central American and Caribbean (NACAC) Under-18 Championship girls' 400 metres bronze medal in Queretaro, Mexico, in July 2019

From the brink

Burton reflects on athlete-to-coach journey

Go Back : Express : Kwame Laurence : 08.10.2020

Antonia Burton was at death's door in the summer of 2006. On scholarship at the University of South Alabama, in the United States, Burton was using her sprint talent to further her education.

"And then one summer I went to Florida to be with my aunt, and got in a car accident. My uncle was driving. The car spun out of control, hit a pole, flipped over, and the pole landed on the car. I was trapped in the car. I don't remember much. I was unconscious. They airlifted me to the airport in Sarasota. They said if I was driven, I would not have made it.

I couldn't walk for months,"" Burton continued. ""I was in a wheelchair. This right hand was not working for months. My entire right side was gone, and my mom was like 'bring meh child home, bring meh child home'. So I graduated down here."""

Burton was telling her story during episode 10 of the online series, "Athlete Talks". Burton shared the spotlight with her coaching colleague, Arlon Morrison. Former national athlete Jamaal James hosted the show, which also featured a segment from Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) tutor and former basketballer Shanice Musgrave.

Burton was a Memphis Pioneers athlete before heading to South Alabama. Under the guidance of Memphis coaches, Dr Ian Hypolite and Edwin Skinner, she earned selection on Trinidad and Tobago teams for the 2002 Central American and Caribbean (CAC) Junior Championships and 2003 Carifta Games. In January 2005, the Carenage sprinter started her studies at South Alabama.

My coach was Lee Evans, world record holder in the 400 before Michael Johnson. For years, Mr Skinner and Doc (Hypolite) tried to get me to run the 400. I love the race; I didn't like the training. So when I was recruited, Mr Skinner said 'let's see if Lee Evans could get you to run the 400'. Lee Evans threatened to send me back to Trinidad, but his threats didn't work. I still never ran the 400-flat.

Burton's track and field career was cut short by the Florida accident.

It happened in my sophomore year, and I finished my psychology degree down here. For years afterwards, I didn't look at a track meet, I didn't come to the stadium or anything. And then one day, I went to check Doc and Memphis in training to say hi. The bug just hit me. That was it. I told him I want to come and coach, and

The rest is history. Burton is not only coaching at Memphis. Young and ambitious, she has been elevated to national team duties, travelling with the country's best young athletes to the 2015, 2017 and 2019 Carifta Games, the 2015 Pan American Junior Championships, the 2017 Commonwealth Youth Games, and the 2019 North American, Central American and Caribbean (NACAC) Under-18 and Under-23 Championships.

Burton is also a highly qualified strength and conditioning coach, and is employed in that capacity by the Sports Company of T&T (SporTT).

Holder of a Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) diploma - widely considered the gold standard qualification in the industry - she works closely with many of T&T's top sportsmen and women.

The list includes Olympic-bound cyclists Nicholas Paul and Kwesi Browne, two-time Olympian Njisane Phillip, and another world class wheelman, Keron Bramble. Burton, who is still attached to the national cycling team, accompanied Paul and company to World Cup meets in Germany, France and England.

Burton is a big admirer of American track and field coaches Lance Brauman and Caryl Smith Gilbert. Here in T&T, she has learnt a lot from Hypolite, Cuban Ismael Lopez Mastrapa and American Erin Hartwell. Mastrapa coaches 2012 Olympic men's javelin gold medallist Keshorn Walcott, while Hartwell coached the T&T national cycling team before taking up his current assignment as China's coach.

"Of all three of them, and of the coaches I speak to in the United States regularly, one thing that is very much at the forefront of their coaching philosophy is attention to detail.

Other than that, all of them love to have control. Having that control is very important for a coach to be successful. You can't have an athlete thinking they know better than you. Yes, you need to collaborate, but at the same time, he can't be doing training when he goes home on an evening after he leaves you. So, you need to have that kind of control."""

Burton has enjoyed many proud moments as a coach.

"There are a lot because Memphis kids make me very proud. From back in the days to now, Memphis has had 87 athletes who were sent on scholarship to the United States. Last year August was the most we ever sent out at once, eight, so that was a big thing for me.

And I shared in Rae-Anne Serville's joy when she signed for her dream school, University of Southern California (USC). Rae-Anne is going to excel at USC."""

Burton, an International Sports Sciences Association (ISSA) Strength and Conditioning Specialist, is also very proud of her cyclists. Two of their achievements stand out: Paul's 9.100 seconds Flying 200 metres world record at the 2019 Pan American Track Cycling Championships in Cochabamba, Bolivia; and Bramble's keirin bronze at the same meet.

Previously, Bramble was on the team but was always a reserve. For that Pan Am, they put him in the keirin, and he got a bronze medal. That's his first international individual medal, ever, after people didn't even want him to go on the team, so that was a big thing for me. Bramble works very hard, so I took great pride in his achievement.