Alia Atkinson: ‘Not quite done, I have more to accomplish’

The world’s first black record holder at the Short Course World Championships, Jamaica’s very own Alia Atkinson (Photo contributed)

She’s Jamaica’s swim superstar, with a bubbly soul that welcomes all. Our very own ‘aquatic ambassador’, and Alia Atkinson feels she still has much more to contribute to the sport.

Atkinson, in a tell-all interview with BUZZ, said that she’ll continue to swim and fly the colours of Jamaica for as long as she can.

The swimmer paused briefly when asked, ‘Just who is Alia, outside the pool?’, but her answers, like an impassioned song, hit all the right chords.

Alia: The determined warrior

“I’m a person who has continued in the sport that she loves, and just fighting to continue for as long as possible” Atkinson explained.

Jamaica’s Alia Atkinson competes in the preliminary heats of the women’s 50m breaststroke swimming event at the 2015 FINA World Championships in Kazan on August 8, 2015. AFP PHOTO / ALEXANDER NEMENOV

Atkinson further described herself as somebody who never gives up; a woman who likes to have a fair playing field and be as accommodating to people of colour in a sport dominated by wealthy nations with intense programmes.

“I’m a daughter of God, I love children and anything really fluffy,” she giggled.

After a brief, pensive pause, Alia added, “I believe that there is more to be done; I have more to give and I’m just waiting for it to reveal itself.”

“Whether I stay in the sport long enough [for it] to reveal itself, I’m not sure, but I think I’m a stubborn athlete. Over the years I’ve gotten wiser, in terms of how I train or how I can help the sport for Jamaica, and for the Caribbean, and for people of colour. Individually, I guess I’m trying to be [competitive] where I am and see if my body can give it one more go,” the 30-year-old powerhouse told BUZZ.

‘There’s more in the tank’, Atkinson declares

As Jamaica’s swimming darling, Atkinson contended that she doesn’t think there might not be enough left ‘in the tank’, but rather, a certain mindset as one’s body ages and the mind starts to wander to the what-ifs.

“As you get older, yes, your body does break down but there are different tactics where you can build it back up,” Atkinson said.

“How you manipulate the body when you’re younger, it’s a bit different when you’re older. What takes place, if you’re injury-free, is more of the mental aspects,” she added.

“As you get older there are different conversations that you need to have. Unless you’re heavily funded, you can’t really focus on the sport too much, so mentally you start thinking about, ‘What else and the next chapter?’,” the proud Jamaican told BUZZ.

“And that’s when the mental fatigue starts to set in; when you’re not giving it 100% anymore,” she added.

Atkinson noted that she’s always considered her next steps outside of the pool, having asked herself many times what else she has found a passion to transitioning into. Still the calm and collected athlete, she noted that Alia is so much more than the sport of swimming.

“I’ve always thought about ‘What else?’, but it’s more like, ‘When swimming finishes, where do I see myself?’. To be honest, I never thought I’d be in the sport for this long, so, as I’ve gotten older, it was more academic-based; I realised there were so many more occupations that open up to me,” Alia told BUZZ.

One such occupation was as post-race interviewer at the Carifta Games in 2018, as well as being guest speaker at swim clinics around the world.

Atkinson remarked, “I really did love that and I didn’t think it was something I could be able to do, much less enjoy it.”

“Family the only reason why I’ve stayed the course for so long…”

The Caribbean’s poster-girl for the sport, who will be celebrating her 31st birthday this December, calls Sundays her designated downtime after a rigorous six-day training regimen.

“I train every day except for Sunday. I usually sleep in, attend church, come back home, catch up on anything I need to have done in the week and relax with the family,” Atkinson told BUZZ.

For the swimmer, her biggest motivators are also Alia’s strongest support base, and she cherishes every waking moment spent with the people who’ve kept her going… Family, friends and her training team.

“They are the only reason why… There have been so many ups and downs in my career, and if I had tackled them alone, I don’t think I would have made it this far or been this pleasant or optimistic,” the St. Andrew native asserted.

“At least every year, there’s a time where somebody in my support staff: either my family, coach, trainer or anyone who’s on Team Alia and has seen my progression through the years – they’re the light and I don’t think I would have made it,” Atkinson further explained.

“All the doubts in my head, [my support team] surrounds and shows that there is no truth behind it. You can keep on going. You can do the goals that you set in place; you’re not still too far,” she told BUZZ.

Jamaica’s future in swimming runs deep

There is much hope for swimming and its future in Jamaica, Atkinson beamed, but cautioned all stakeholders to have tunnel-vision in the best interest of the athletes and the wider sport.

“I am very happy where Jamaica’s swimming [programme] is, we’ve had a team go to Junior Worlds, the Goodwill Games; we’re having more teams represent and it’s not the same individuals,” Atkinson began.

“It’s showing that Jamaica’s is getting bigger, we’re getting more powerful and we have the depth, which is great,” she mused.

“Where we need to go is find a path and have it clear for everybody: coaches, parents, the [Jamaica Swimming] association and the swimmers where that goes…I think if it’s more visual, we’ll be able to see them have the small victories and have more people continuing after the age of 18,” Alia told BUZZ.

It’s a similar situation across the different disciplines across the Caribbean as more countries join and make their presence in swimming known, but the risks are all too the same for Atkinson.

“It’s a big thing to tackle, but I’m hoping they stay in the sport long enough to be a representation to the younger ones can see them, aspire to be them and where they are, and to beat them,” she explained.

The Jamaican had a successful campaign at the FINA World Cup in Tokyo, Japan this August, where she mined gold in the 50-metre breaststroke.

Next for Alia, the cup will follow circuit competitions in Budapest (October 4-6); Berlin (October 11-13); as well as Kazan, Russia (November 1-3).