While many are familiar with the Cool Runnings movie based on the five brave Jamaican young men who fought against circumstances to be part of the first Jamaican Bobsleigh team to enter into the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary, Canada, not many know the real lives of the individuals honoured for their tremendous contribution to nation-building.
Nelson Christian Stokes, one of the five, grew up in Galina, St Mary, Jamaica, and spent much of his childhood in the outdoors with his brother Dudley, (aka Tal), who was also a member of the original bobsleigh team.
“That’s when I realised I could run fast, and my brother, Dudley, would match me up against much older boys to race, and I would often come out on top,” Stokes told BUZZ.
Stokes attended Port Maria Primary school. His father was a Baptist pastor, and his mother worked at the library and later taught at St Mary High School. As a result, his childhood years were spent bouncing between school, church and the playfield.
Stokes recalled that his father got the position as Chaplin at Calabar High School, and so the family left St Mary for Kingston. There he attended St Richard’s Primary School and then Calabar High.
“My first track coach was Herb McKenley and that had a profound influence on my life,” he recalled. “I have ran track and won medals in all three classes at Boy’s Champs, including a gold in the 100m in 1982. I was also on the Calabar championship team of 1979. We later moved to Montego Bay where my father served as headmaster at Cornwall College, so I spent 2 years there then went to Munro for sixth form,” he said.
Stokes said that he missed out on a full track scholarship after high school and attended Bronx Community College in New York where he got an Associate’s degree in liberal arts. He then got a full track scholarship to the University of Idaho where he received a Bachelor of Science in Finance. Then it was on to Washington State University where he did an MBA in finance.
It was while working on his MBA that he went to his first Olympics.
“I was in training for the 1988 Summer Games in Seoul South Korea, and my brother was on the bobsleigh team, and so I watched him carry the flag in the opening ceremony,” Stokes said.
“He called me to come up and watch his race in Calgary in the two-man and then persuaded me to try the four-man event, which I did after much distress between us,” he added, laughing.
Stokes recounted the experience in his book, Cool Runnings and Beyond, the Story of the Jamaican Bobsleigh Team.
Although the team did not get a medal, Stokes soon became a star, and life has taken him down many roads since.
“It was a challenge transitioning after my sports career, but I have been able to make the change,” he said. “I have pursued a career in banking – working at Victoria Mutual and then NCB, and now own a financial services group in the Turks and Caicos Islands.”
Among many other accolades, Stokes received The Order of Distinction in the Rank of Officer (OD): On the occasion of the 57th Anniversary of Independence of Jamaica, for ‘Contribution to the Development of Sport in Jamaica.’
— Written by Donna Hussey-Stewart