Honour first Olympic medallist by building promised gym

sporting hero: Friends and relatives of Trinidad and Tobago’s first Olympic medallist Rodney Wilkes carry his coffin following his funeral service yesterday at the St Paul’s Anglican Church, Harris Promenade, San Fernando. —Photo: DEXTER PHILIP

A wooden key is the only indication of the Rodney Wilkes Training Gym, which was promised to be constructed as an honour to the life and times of Trinidad and Tobago's first-ever Olympic medallist, but which was never built.

Yesterday, Wilkes's daughter Grace Wilkes-Wossley called for the gym to be opened to assist youths in the area.

Wilkes-Wossley said her father believed that should something be given to him, he should neither have to beg nor ask.

"When he represented this country in the Olympics, he represented us with nothing.... He had to make contraptions and improvised with his training. He gave it his all," she said.

Wilkes, who was ailing with prostate cancer, died at the San Fernando General Hospital on Monday, at the age of 89.

In 1948, he won the silver medal ,in London, England, in the featherweight division in weight-lifting.

Four years later, he won an Olympic bronze medal at the Games in Helsinki, Finland.

Wilkes ,who worked as an electrician with the San Fernando City Corporation, was awarded the Hummingbird Medal (Gold) for sport in 1972.

The weight sets he used in the 1948 Olympic Games remain outside the Wilkes family home as a symbol of his achievement.

Wilkes-Wossley said there was a key on the wall for the Rodney Wilkes Training Gym, but she never saw such facility or knew if it was ever commissioned.

She called for the gym to be opened to provide training for youths and help keep them away from crime and drugs.

She also asked for programmes to assist past athletes and said she had once petitioned a former prime minister to "do something more substantial for daddy".

Wilkes-Wossley said she had also asked that prime minister for an honorary doctorate in sport to be given to her father while he was alive, but she never received feedback on this suggestion.

A small gathering paid their respects during the funeral service yesterday at the St Paul's Anglican Church, Harris Promenade, San Fernando.

The symbol of the Olympic rings preceded Wilkes's coffin, and Wilkes-Wossley thanked Minister of Sport and Youth Affairs Anil Roberts and the ministry for covering the funeral expenses.

Wilkes-Wossley recalled she was a child at the time of her father's achievements.

"I saw a man flash a bright light (take a photograph) at my father, and I screamed and thought they were trying to hurt Daddy," she said.

She said to his children, Wilkes was not a sporting hero of his era.

"We knew him as daddy. Daddy who turned a small, wooden shack into a large concrete house, with comfortable rooms for his children," she said.

Wilkes's funeral was attended by San Fernando Mayor Kazim Hosein, deputy Mayor Junia Regrello, councillors and other member of the San Fernando City Corporation.

Wilkes was buried at the Paradise Cemetery in San Fernando.


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