By Terry Finisterre
Sandisha Antoine is celebrating her 28th birthday in a very unfamiliar place. She is uncertain, perhaps a little bit scared, and indubitably very excited about what lays ahead for one of Saint Lucia’s genuine champions.
She was just 15 years old when she set her first Saint Lucia national record. Her mark of 12.11 metres was enough to win her silver in the under-17 girls triple jump at the 36th CARIFTA Games on Providenciales, Turks and Caicos Islands.
Chantel Malone of the British Virgin Islands, the gold medallist that day, would go on to win long jump gold at the 2019 Pan American Games in Lima, Peru.
Sandisha finished 12th in triple jump in Lima, but 2019 has been an odd year for her. Born in Belle Vue, Vieux Fort, Sandisha has spent most of her life in Martinique.
One of the leading horizontal jumpers from the English-speaking Caribbean since she was a teenager, Sandisha cleared 6.41m in January to win the 1er Tour Hivernages at the Stade L. Achille in Fort de France.
But even though she has declared her intention to break Michelle Baptiste’s 22-year-old national record of 6.47m, it is triple jump that is her pet event. She has hopped, skipped, and jumped her way to a best distance of 13.91m in 2018, barely having competed in 2017. The pattern of improvement and drop-off goes back to her early twenties.
Even after winning that CARIFTA silver medal in 2007, few Saint Lucians knew much about the teenager who spoke as much French as she did English, or maybe even more French than English. This, although she went on to compete at the Commonwealth Youth Championships and travelled to China to represent Saint Lucia at the 2008 Beijing Olympics as a youth ambassador.
She won CARIFTA gold at the George Odlum National Stadium in 2009, a stone’s throw from her birthplace, with her family cheering her on. That meet was the most successful ever for Saint Lucia, and the most memorable for many of the participants from outside of Saint Lucia. A year later, she repeated as CARIFTA champion in the Cayman Islands.
Then came an injury-riddled 2011, through which Sandisha focused on accountancy and management studies at DCG Lycée Joseph Gaillard in Fort-De-France.
A comeback year followed in 2012, when she set three new career-best marks. At the French Under-23 National Championships in Reims, her 13.16m national record was second in triple jump, and she won an OECS long jump title.
In 2013, she became the France under-23 champion, but then was out of competition in 2014. Another personal-best, another national record in 2015, only to come full circle in 2017, and almost starting all over.
This time around, Sandisha is truly starting over. “The 2019 season ended on a pretty bitter note for me,” she says. “I couldn’t accomplish everything I was hoping for. It’s been a roller-coaster, not only physically, but above all mentally, with big periods of doubt and questioning. I still got to learn a lot about myself and especially I know I haven’t reached my limits yet!”
And so, with an Olympic year in 2020, with support from the Saint Lucia Olympic Committee and her sponsors LS Trade (a range of natural products for muscle recovery and everyday use for body, hair, and diet), the French-Saint Lucian jumper – ranked as high as 112th in the world for one week – has moved to Jamaica. There, she will train with the world number 2.
Shanieka Ricketts is a two-time North and Central American and Caribbean champion, Diamond League event winner, Pan Am and Commonwealth medallist, and a 2019 World Championships silver medallist. She is also Sandisha’s new training partner. Just three months separate the two, but a world of experience and attainment.
That gap can close quickly, as Ricketts has shown the past few years. Formerly a relatively unknown jumper, she is now one of the world’s best. That’s thanks in part to the tutelage of her husband / coach, Kerry-Lee Ricketts. The jumps and strength and conditioning coach at The University of the West Indies, Mona, he is Sandisha’s new coach as well.
“I needed to come out of my comfort zone, experience a new programme, and most of all have some more focus on my first event – triple jump,” explains Sandisha, whose statuesque figure and stunning looks have also gained her some acclaim as a model. “I needed to be in an environment where I can only focus on track.”
And so far, so good. The early returns, she says, have been promising. “It’s been good for a start, we’ve not gotten to the heart of the programme yet. But I can see that the training methods are different from what I knew. Taking aim at the Olympics, Tokyo 2020, is the plan. I know I can be way better than what I am now and that I have not exploited my full potential. And having the world silver medalist in my training group is an extra boost.”
If this Vieux Fort native can make it to Tokyo by way of Kingston 7, she will surely have taken inspiration from her former training mate at Asco Inter Atlas, Albert Reynolds. The javelin thrower from Babonneau made his first World Championships field this year, at the age of 31. Next year, Sandisha is hoping to introduce herself to the world as well.