One of Barbados’ gifted 400m runners had room in his heart for one sport and that was cricket. So it was unimaginable that Seibert Straughn, a young man born and raised in Eastbourne, St. Phillip, would become a two-time Olympian and go on to write his name on this country’s history’s page as a top national record holder.
The nephew of Yolande Straughn, one of Barbados’ best sprinters of all time and a former national record holder in the women’s 200m, it was evident that track and field ran in the blood of the Straughn family. But it was not easy for the tall, talented Straughn to let go of his first love and it took some persuasion and influence from a few individuals such as McDonald Fingall, Michael Jules and Tony ‘Palance’ Williams to shift his focus.
As a young first former at The Lodge School which has produced several outstanding athletes and a few Olympians, Straughn jokingly recalled how Fingall, Jules and Williams pushed very hard for him to take up track and field and it was a decision that would forever change his life. He got his big break to travel the world and had the opportunity to attend the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul, South Korea with his aunt Yolande where they both competed.
A Barbados 400m indoor record holder (46.14) which was eventually broken last year by Jonathan Jones, Straughn now 52-years-old went on to relive his Olympic dream once again, this time in Barcelona, Spain, in 1992 where he signed off on his track and field career for the ultramarine, gold and black. Just when Straughn thought it was his last time seeing the Olympics, he accompanied the Barbados team as coach in 2004 in Athens, Greece, where outstanding Barbadians Obadele Thompson and Andrea Blackett were among the island’s track stars.
But for Straughn, his first appearance at the 1988 Olympics will forever be dear to his heart. As fate would have it, he was in the semifinal with the World record holder Harry Lee Reynolds Jr. famously known as Butch Reynolds of the United States of America. What made that particular occasion such a big deal for Straughn was bolting out of lane four while his top rival Reynolds featured just ahead in lane five.
An avid baker and lover of sweetbread with a small business operation, Straughn, a proud family man, credited his family especially wife Dale Straughn and daughter Michaela for their love and continued support over the years. Besides the Olympics, Straughn, once a member of Freedom Striders Track Club, had the distinction of representing Barbados at the 1991 World Championships in Tokyo, Japan, The Pan American Championship in Cuba, the Commonwealth Games in New Zealand, the first-ever World Junior Games in Greece and the CARIFTA Games.
He also featured a lot at the Texaco Games held years ago in Barbados and strongly believed that was the best thing that ever happened to track and field in the island. It was in 1989 on Mothers’ Day at the Texaco Games that Straughn set a meet record (45.16) which still stands as his personal best to date. It was a performance dedicated to his mother who died a few years ago and has never seen him run live.
Every time one asks most athletes what it means to be an Olympian the word “special” is the response and for Straughn, vice-president of Olympians Barbados it is the same. Reliving his Olympic journey, Straughn said: “As an Olympian, I felt special being one of the best athletes there and it is an honour to represent your country because only a small percentage of people get to attend the Olympics. For me, it was a truly special occasion. Firstly, walking onto the track and then looking into the stand and seeing so many people, running in front of such mammoth crowd but at the same time you don’t focus so much on the crowd, you focus on going to that starting line.”
A proud four-time all American, Straughn attended Murray State University from 1989 to 1992 where he studied Physical Education and Health and was also fortunate to be inducted into the institution’s Hall of Fame last year along with fellow Barbadian Stevon Roberts (1990-1993). Several other Barbadians such as Michael Jules, twin Dave and Don Small who are now teachers also attended the university based in Calloway County, southwestern Kentucky.
No doubt attending the Murray State University helped to shape Straughn into the man he is today and individuals such as athletic director Michael Strickland, coach Stan Narewski, assistant coach Ronald Boyce who was responsible for recruiting Straughn along with his mentor Elvis Forde all played important roles.
A member of Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity, Straughn expressed gratitude for the guidance and support he received over the years and offered some heartfelt advice to young athletes of today. “First you got to do well in your academic studies, that would always come first. You need the right attitude towards training, and I mean hard work, discipline, determination. I always tell an athlete that going to college is like a job where you have a contract to sign and if you don’t follow your contract or come up short you can be fired. I would say going to college was one of the most defining moments of my life. It was a really good experience because it enabled you to grow.”
Despite starting his track and field journey late in 1984 at the age of 17, Straughn has done well as he not only served the Athletics Association of Barbados in many capacities but was also a past chairman of the National Sports Council. As much as he enjoyed such administrative roles and making a difference, teaching physical education and coaching at the Christ Church Foundation School for the past 26 years has been the best career choice Straughn said he has made.
Over the years Foundation School has produced several notable athletes in several disciplines such as athletics, cricket, swimming, cycling, football, volleyball, basketball and who have gone on to represent Barbados at the regional and international level.
Olympians Alex Sobers and Tia-Adana Belle passed through Straughn’s care while at Foundation School and he played a crucial role in the development of many of the athletes there. He also paid tribute to former Foundation principal Major Barker along with Sheldon Perkins for allowing him in February 1994 to join the Foundation family where he went on to help shape the lives of the young people at the school. For him, the idea was always striving to do the best for Barbados.
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