Shocking death of teammate inspires sprinter to #FinishlikeBarnaby

Shocking death of teammate inspires sprinter to #FinishlikeBarnaby

Canada’s fastest woman Khamica Bingham using grief to power her to the Olympic podium

By Khamica Bingham for CBC Sports
August 3, 2016
The death of 400-metre runner Daundre Barnaby devastated the Canadian track and field team. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press) The death of 400-metre runner Daundre Barnaby devastated the Canadian track and field team. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

My very last memory of Daundre alive was of me screaming his name.

I was also screaming for help, with tears pouring down my face and heart pounding. He was drifting further into the ocean. I was in shock. I’ve never been in a situation where I actually didn’t know what to do. Like, did that really just happen?

Daundre Barnaby was more than a teammate to me, he was my big brother. Not literally, but you know what I mean. We always teased each other, that was just how we communicated best, and we always had each other’s back.

He was my motivator, the one I could always count on to make me laugh and tell me to stop complaining so much. And since March 27th 2015, he has been my angel.

A beautiful sunny Friday after a long hard week of training brought six of us to the beach in Saint Kitts. The water was enjoyable and relaxing, but mostly effective for recovery. The waves weren’t crazy vicious or anything but the sea level seemed unusually deep. Little did we know that something that seemed so harmless on the surface could be death in disguise.

There was a strong undercurrent that we were completely unaware of. There were many attempts to try and save him, believe me. A teammate of mine personally attempted to swim to him and those who couldn’t swim cried for help.

Three volunteers from the beach with fins sacrificed their safety swimming out into the water. I contemplated trying to save him myself but I knew I wasn’t strong enough to save another, and seeing how far out he was getting froze me in place.

Khamica Bingham, right, claimed the title of Khamica Bingham, right, claimed the title of "fastest woman in Canada." (Dan Riedlhuber/The Canadian Press)

4 agonizing hours

Now here comes the scary part. The point at which you’re straining your eyes looking for a tiny floating head and you see nothing but waves. He was missing in the heart of the Atlantic Ocean.

On the silent beach we were full of shock, sadness, confusion but mostly anxiety. A helicopter flew back and forth and a boat surfed the waves searching for him. The entire beach strained their eyes looking for a sight of Daundre.

Divers had been called close to the four-hour mark and thankfully helped lug Daundre’s soulless body on to the shore. I was torn between emotions: I was crying for joy that we found him, but consumed with misery because it was now official. I had lost my brother.

If there is one thing I learned, is that in life there will be many things that happen that you can’t control.

It’s a part of life and a part of God’s plan for you. Despite the pain from losing Daundre, my teammates and I looked for positivity and came up with a motto “Finish like Barnaby” to mimic not only his strong finishes in the 400-metre races, but also in the race of life. It gave us all fire in our hearts to be better individuals and leave everything on the track.

And so I do #FinishlikeBarnaby.

Last year was an eye-opening season. I helped qualify the 4x100 relay team for the Olympics. I was a bronze medallist at the Pan Am Games and a finalist at the world championships while breaking the Canadian record with a time of 42.60 seconds. These experiences filled me with confidence and hunger for an Olympic medal.

But for me personally, winning my first senior national 100 event with a time of 11.19 and claiming the title of “fastest woman in Canada,” with a time no Canadian has seen from a female since the 80’s just takes the cake. It still boggles my mind. Did that really just happen?

Bingham thrives under pressure and will be ready for Rio. (Steve Russell/Toronto Star via Getty Images) Bingham thrives under pressure and will be ready for Rio. (Steve Russell/Toronto Star via Getty Images)

Opening doors

I had opened the doors for sprinting on the female side without even realizing it and last year was by far one of the best years for women in the 100 in a long, long time.

I ran my personal best at the Pan Am Games by clocking in at 11.13. It was the perfect confidence booster to getting closer to that sub-11 time that I’m preparing to run in Rio.

Every rep, every stride, every run is to defend my title as fastest woman in Canada crown.

I’m 21-years-old and working my butt off trying to protect my title in a field of many older sprinters. I’m training with a new coach and it’s going really, really well. I’m seeing an athlete in me that I have never seen before. I’m motivated and pumped for my best season yet, and then I tore the cartilage in my left knee.

Come on, did that really happen? On February 29th, I injured my knee. I tore the medial (inside) cartilage of my knee in two ways, creating a “flap” — six millimetres one way and seven millimetres the other. Figuring out how to treat this injury was time consuming and an emotional rollercoaster — I’m talking the size of the Leviathan at Canada’s Wonderland.

“It’s too risky,” said my doctor and orthopaedic surgeon. To remove the cartilage through surgery would be a season ender for me and also leave me with arthritis. Thankfully, I was cleared to begin my training again in late April.

I was once told by someone special, “it’s an artist’s job to find beauty in what’s left.” For athletes, performing is art and we all face adversities and road bumps that do set us back sometimes. What makes us different is we can still create beauty with whatever resources we have left and find a new way to make it work.

It was a slow process. But I am coming back. And I’m hungrier than ever. Coming back from an injury is like riding a bike: You may be a little rusty at first but the body never forgets the motion. My legs have run that fast before and they can do it again.

I haven’t lost my competitiveness but I am exchanging my old self as a sprinter and making room for a new and improved “Khamica” as a sprinter. Things are definitely coming around.

I’ve made my dream come true. I made the Olympic team and I am headed to Rio. There will be a lot of pressure, but I thrive under pressure. And of course, I have my angel.

I’m going to be all business on that track, representing my country, my family and my friends. And I intend to #FinishLikeBarnaby.

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