Outstanding junior triathlete Niel Skinner is flying the Barbados flag proudly on the world stage with an international ranking of 19th in the sport of aquathlon.
What is even more impressive, the 17-year-old Barbadian is one of the youngest aquathlon – a subset of triathlon – competitors in the world. The top three ranks are all 30-years old and older.
In December last year Skinner won the inaugural Aquathlon National Championship at home where he received world-ranking points. That in addition to his accomplishments at the 2019 Santa Marta Aquathlon American Championship held in Colombia (June) propelled him up the rankings.
Ranked number one among the English-speaking countries and rated at five in the Americas, Skinner has been affected significantly by the advent of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. He had plans to compete at major tournaments such as the Caribbean Age Group Triathlon Championship which was supposed to be held in the middle of the month in Florida and the CARIFTA triathlon championship in September. They are all now postponed.
A CARIFTA gold medallist in triathlon, Skinner said he had plans to capture triathlon gold this year in the 16 to 19 age group. In addition, he also wanted to attend the World Beach Games for aquathlon but is uncertain whether that will now take place.
Despite not being able to travel and compete during this time, Skinner continues to keep in shape by doing an hour of riding on his home trainer, among other exercises.
The talented athlete not only wears the ultramarine, gold and black for Barbados in triathlon and aquathlon, but also represented Barbados last year at CARIFTA and the Central American and Caribbean Swimming Federation CCCAN swimming championships.
Comparing triathlon and aquathlon and what he fancies about the two sports, Skinner explained that triathlon, a combination of swimming, running and cycling was more tedious compared to aquathlon which involves swimming, running, swimming.
“I find aquathlon more fun to do because I have the ability to run and I come from a swimming background. So, competing in aquathlon for me is a lot easier because I don’t have to worry about the bike section,” he said.
Skinner said he mainly trains for triathlon because the workload is a lot more. Whereas with aquathlon which has a mere two events, he mostly focuses on his running because when it comes to swimming he is much stronger.
When it comes to balancing both sports, Skinner stated he was satisfied with the way he has managed so far. But noted that there will come a time when he will have to choose one or may have to prioritise.
“To stop the two from clashing I train early in the mornings and after school in the evenings. And even if my morning training has a great impact on my sleep schedule or me being able to do my work, I speak with my teachers and so far they have been quite understanding.”
The Queen’s College student has on his radar plans to attend either United Kingdom-based universities Cardiff, which Barbados’ top triathlon athlete Matthew Wright attended, or Loughborough. He has his sight set on pursuing a full-time degree in mechanical engineering.
A lover of mathematics and physics, Skinner added: “I have a knack for building things or doing things with my hands. So, I feel that is the best choice for me.”
If Skinner does attend Cardiff University, he will be under the tutelage of Luke Watson who is coach to Wright and is the head coach at that University.
President of the Barbados Federation of Island Triathletes (BFIT), Darren Treasure said aquathlon is an emerging sport with the adoption by the International Triathlon Union and National Triathlon Federation.