Diane Henderson is known to many for her contributions to sport in Trinidad and Tobago. She is Chairperson of the Trinidad and Tobago Marathon Committee, a distance runner, triathlete, and the mother of a young triathlon star, Joshua Ho. She studied Psychology and earns her living as a Wellness and Engagement Professional at Angostura Limited, where she has worked for close to twenty-five years.
“I can proudly say that I’m the one that introduced the whole physical-wellness and sporting thing [to] Angostura,” she said, explaining that she helped develop the company’s gym, first aid programmes, wellness centre, which includes a nurse who does preventative testing, as well as other initiatives. All these have benefited the company as a whole, firstly by improving employees’ health, then by reducing claims made, and in so doing saving the company’s resources. Her commitment is such that she has earned herself a reputation among staff for coaxing and keeping at them to maintain their physical health. At her portrait session she shared, “When they leave and they’re retirees I ask them, ‘What are you doing? Are you keeping your health up?’ I’m always asking that. They know I’m going to ask them that! ‘So what are you doing? You keeping active?’ That kind of thing. They leave the company with Diane making sure that [they’re] doing something.”
Not only within Angostura, but overall, Diane views sport as a tool for improving the whole of society — not just as it relates to the career opportunities of the sportspersons themselves, nor the associated careers that sport creates (therapists, scientists, nutritionists, coaches, managers, reporters, photographers) but also as a way of bettering child development. She would like to see more parents introduce their children to physical activity, and said that if a child gets involved in a sport, the benefits are far-reaching as they would learn not just the sport itself, but also discipline, commitment, determination and perseverance. “You’re making a better citizen off the bat, as long as you let the child get dedicated to something.”
To that end, she devoted the senior thesis of her Psychology degree to examining ‘Female Participation in Sport’. She said it’s a known fact among the Trinidad and Tobago Olympic Committee (TTOC) and other local, sporting groups, that there is a gap in adolescent, female participation, which comes at that critical phase when training could turn them into elite athletes. It was her aim therefore to find out what were some of the reasons for females dropping out at that time. Her results showed a wide range of reasons and fears, ranging from fear of injuries, fear of performing well, fear of failure, menstruation, and body type. Incidentaly quite a number of female athletes also dropped out because of academics, which signaled to her that many parents unfortunately do not see sport as a real career option for their children. Perhaps initiatives like the TTOC’s #10golds24 may help remedy this in the coming years.
Diane got into running out of a desire to evade strict coaches. Although always physically-inclined, doing track and field, high jump, netball, dance and swimming while at school, as a child she dropped out of both swimming and dance because of her teachers’ inclinations toward boofing. Nevertheless being the independent and personally-motivated person she always was, running became a natural calling for her because she could train on her own. It was perhaps while doing self-imposed Savannah laps, a running coach spotted her, and encouraged her to compete in her first distance race at the hilly Palo Seco, South Trinidad, which proved to be a challenge because of her inexperience at that kind of course. (Listen to the podcast for her full account of this first race at Palo Seco.)
Later, she migrated to road racing, “doing 5Ks and 10Ks and those kinds of things, and I loved the middle distance, the 9 mile race or the 15K.” She explained that they were, “just longer than the short-short distance [and that it would therefore] require endurance and not as much speed,” but still not, “long like the half marathon or the marathon, [for which] you’d have to do so much training. So that 15K, that 9 mile, was just beautiful for me. Man, I used to leave everybody [behind]!” She admitted that there were a couple other girls who were good at that distance, adding that her training was unorthodox. “My training was [just] get out there and do the miles.” She did train on tracks, but to a lesser extent, again to avoid scolding coaches. Still she developed her own way of dealing with pre-race pressures. “I could be cool as a cucumber, but I know I’m aiming for you! My mind’s set on what I want to do, but I’ll be laughing and smiling.” She compared this to the high anxiety many other athletes face pre-race, because they focus so much importance on the event, meanwhile for her, “I going and whatever happens, happens.”
As it turns out, her son, Joshua, is following in her energetic footsteps. When he was as young as ten-years-old, during a race, she observed his competitive edge, with his similar desire to gun for older athletes who came within his range. She told herself, “I ain’t easing up with this one. He needs to get out there.”
Marathon has been a big part of Diane’s life for a long time. “Years ago when I ran the marathon and I was coming up from QRC to the finish […] I never forgot that my pores raised and [my] glands [got] tight [being] so filled with that anxiety of just finishing the marathon [and] you’re almost to tears, and your pores are just prickling because you’re just running up that finish line and that euphoria of [seeing] all the people coming up the finish is what that’s all about!”
The Trinidad and Tobago International Marathon began in 1983, originally as the Mirror Marathon. It then changed hands a few times, becoming the Guinness and Universal Marathon, and was eventually overseen by CLICO. During its title-sponsorship by CLICO, perhaps around 2006, she joined the Trinidad and Tobago Marathon Committee, brought in by her good friend from the Trinidad and Tobago Road Runners group, Francis William Smith. The role of the Marathon Committee was to handle the logistics and management of the race itself, while CLICO focused on the marketing. Interestingly, as CLICO’s sponsorship has since stopped, marketing remains the Committee’s biggest weak-spot.
Diane attributes part of her challenge to “asking.” Brought up and taught to be very independent, being encouraged to go to work right away, and always achieving all of her goals herself, she feels uncomfortable asking. “I’ll tell you honestly, I’m not one to pick up the phone.” Her father told her to finish school and, ” ‘Go work. And be independent.’ And me, not wanting to ask for anything, I was independent. I saved my own money, I bought my own car, and from then [on] I asked for nothing.” She continues, “And I’ve sort of gone through my years that way. I don’t really ask for anything. I feel I have to do it on my own. And this world is not a ‘do it [on] your own’ [anymore]. It’s about a ‘network’, and that’s what I’m struggling to come to grips with.” She said, “That’s basically my challenge; Picking up the phone and ‘begging’; because I think I’m begging. So [instead] I have to think I’m not begging I’m doing something else. I’m just ‘networking’. I’m ‘collaborating’ [for the benefit of] both sides, [or] I’m doing ‘partnerships’. I actually have to will myself and I have a little thing there that I’ve been keeping on the counter [to] remind myself about courage everyday. Courage, not to go climb no mountain — that’s easy. Courage to pick up the phone and speak to people.”
On the topic of mountains, three of Diane’s greatest sporting accomplishments were completing the Ironman, completing the One Hundred Mile Run, and completing an event known as ‘Coast to Coast’. “Coast to Coast was the race [that] Eco Adventures had where we started off by doing the cycle from Grande Riviere to Matelot and then trail-run from Matelot to Blanchisseuse, and then bike from Blanchisseuse the next morning [to] Blue Range. And from Blue Range you hike, trek, over North Coast into Macqueripeand then Macqueripe you kayak all around, 32K, to Kayak Centre, around Gasparee and Five Islands. Up, and then back down to Kayak Centre.” She added, “That Coast to Coast, people don’t understand it at all. It’s a whole, total, mental story!”
Diane predicts a future of encouraging “the young ones,” the next generation of local athletes, to get into and stay in sport. To this end, she’d like to someday run open sessions in which diverse young athletes can get together to just “talk it,” and work through their challenges, compare their stories, brainstorm, form friendships and networks. This might be especially helpful to young female athletes.
Determined to not become just a role model “from afar,” she continues forcing herself out of her zone of comfort, as she seeks new and better ways to impact the lives and health of those whom she can.