“We lost one of us.”
On an emotional evening at the Kyle Field Hall of Champions in Texas on Thursday, Texas A&M University track and field head coach Pat Henry summed up the mood with those words about Deon Lendore.
The celebration of the life of Lendore, the Trinidad and Tobago athlete and Olympic medallist who died in a car accident two weeks ago was filled with expressions from those close to him at the university and relatives from Trinidad who had travelled to the United States for the memorial service.
In his address, an emotional Henry, Lendore’s former coach, who had also worked with him over the last two years when the Arima native was an assistant volunteer coach at the school, spoke of how their relationship evolved.
“You athletes sitting out there don’t realise the impact you have on us...the impact you have on us is just life-long. And if you’re here very long as Deon was, you become much, much more than just an athlete,” coach Henry said.
“As coaches, we all have athletes we know as athletes. Deon became a friend. In ten years, he was a great friend of mine. We didn’t have that athlete-coach relationship that whole time. He became a friend.”
Lendore competed for Texas A&M from 2012-2015. In 2014, he went undefeated through 14 races in the 400 metres while claiming individual NCAA titles at the indoor and outdoor championships. Lendore also played a vital role in the 4x400m relay team that claimed the NCAA outdoor title and swept the SEC Championships. That year, he was named Texas A&M’s first and only male winner of The Bowerman, which is awarded to the most outstanding collegiate track and field athlete.
“With the volume of work that Deon has had, I would say he is probably the finest male track athlete we have ever had,” Henry noted.
The coach also spoke of Lendore’s qualities as a budding coach.
“He had a really special ability to lift those around him. He could talk to you; he could talk to the athletes. When an athlete was feeling bad, he had the ability to change it...People believed in him, they believed in him, he became a leader...
“He had a great eye for the sport…He could see in others what they needed to be told what to do.”
And Henry, trying hard to control himself, also had special words for Lendore’s parents who were not present.
“You did a great job raising your son,” he said.
“For me personally in the ten years, his growth as not just a track athlete but as a man was just fantastic.”
Even more emotional than Henry was the former Grenadian quarter-miler and Texas A&M coach Alleyne Francique, who said he has told several former A&M runners to dedicate their seasons to Lendore’s memory and requested that every 400-metre race run by A&M this season be named in honour of the Olympian.
“He was a young man with many qualities,” a tearful Francique said. “He was caring. He was [dependable]. He was courageous and he loved his family. To many of you, he was a team-mate. He was a mentor, an athlete and a fierce competitor. But to me, he was family.”
Lendore’s girlfriend Jasper Gray, a former athlete who has now begun coaching said: “Deon was literally my heart, I will love him forever and he meant the world to me. I hope you guys cherish him and continue living out his legacy.”
Some of Lendore’s family members also spoke, including his brother-in-law Keive Vanloo, who had words for the athlete’s Texas A&M colleagues and friends.
“We the family will be forever grateful to you, Texas A&M, for making him a part of your family — for providing and giving your best to serve in a field that he loved,” Vanloo said. “Deon will live on through the sands of time and his legacy will live on forever in our hearts.”
Current and former members of the Texas A&M track programme were in attendance, including the school’s track athletic trainer Saul Luna, his current professional coach Vice Anderson, and several professional teammates and training partners.