Barbados has its first-ever modern pentathlon medallist thanks to Sanojah ‘Sunni’ Gilkes who recently captured bronze at the United States of America Nationals and also earned a place in the main draw of the Olympic qualifiers for fencing.
Currently the reigning Barbados epee champion, Gilkes is training in the United States and so far is living her dreams having also qualified for the Junior Under-21 and Youth A Under-19 World Pentathlon Championships in Egypt starting early July.
During an interview with Barbados TODAY, the 17-year-old said that hard work and dedication were the key ingredients to achieving her goals and she hoped to inspire other young girls to success along her journey.
Gilkes shared her feelings about the experience so far and what it takes to compete at this level.
“It felt great fencing some of the best fencers in the PanAm region and the world. Knowing that I can only get better and more experienced is wonderful. I was the youngest competitor but felt I belonged and was not outclassed.
“I train for 30-40 hours a week, across five sports. It’s tough but, when you get the results it is extremely satisfying. The five sports are so different that training is so specific to each, when they are combined in one day then, you feel that the hard work is justified,” Gilkes said.
It has been an incredible four weeks for Gilkes who left Barbados on April 20th and has since taken on some of the world’s best in fencing and modern pentathlon.
The confident and talented Gilkes travelled to Costa Rica for the Pan-Am Olympic Qualifier in the sport of fencing. In pool play she successfully conquered the Costa Rica Women’s champion, Karina Diner ranked 147th in the world, which allowed her to qualify for the main draw of the Olympics qualifiers.
In the round of 16, Gilkes fenced number four seed and 112 in the world Yamilka Rodriguez Quesada of Cuba and despite giving it her all, Quesada secured the bronze medal.
However, Gilkes’ performance will go down in history because despite finishing 13th in the qualifier, it is the best ever showing by a Barbadian fencer.
In the modern pentathlon which is an Olympic sport and comprises five events – fencing, 200m freestyle swimming, show jumping, and a final combined event of pistol shooting and a 3200m cross-country run – Gilkes did her country proud.
She celebrated her birthday at the end of April and gave herself a wonderful gift
Gilkes swam a personal best of 2:38:91 which was nine seconds faster than ever before and also a personal best of 16:43:97 in the laser-run. In fencing, she placed fifth out of all the Women’s Divisions.
As she continued her amazing showing, Gilkes registered a personal best total of 995 points which was good enough for the Youth A bronze medal, and fourth position in the Junior Division which was just 15 points behind the eventual bronze medallist.
Then on May 23, Gilkes and her partner, Jake St. Clair, won silver in both the Junior and Youth A Mixed Relay. She also completed a personal best of 1:13:51 in the pool over 100 yards.
A determined young lady, Gilkes said her dream is to represent Barbados at the Olympics and she is aiming for Los Angeles in 2028.
With respect to her achievements so far, she noted that the Olympic Qualifier in Costa Rica has been one of the most defining moments of her career.
“The Olympic fencing qualifier in Costa Rica and my subsequent fencing performance in the US Nationals for pentathlon has shown me how well I am progressing. Also, my swim in the pentathlon individual was over nine seconds faster than I had ever swam the distance,” Gilkes added.
As she expressed gratitude, Gilkes thanked all those who helped her along the way including her late fencing coach Corey Rogers.
“We had to leave Barbados on 20th of April in order to train, after the La Soufriere eruption and relocated to Miami. I want to thank all of my coaches in Barbados, Jack Kirivong and Javier in Miami, my parents, and, last but not least, dedicate this performance to my fencing coach Corey Rogers, who died suddenly in April 2020. He believed in me and I will never forget what he did for me in fencing and pentathlon,” she explained.
Many have made financial contributions towards Gilkes so far in her endeavours by donating through her GoFundMe account (https://gofund.me/79ffd087) and she is hoping that support will continue. Gilkes is currently based in Orlando, Florida, and will compete this Saturday in one of the largest fencing tournaments.