Transitioning to life after sport could be challenging for some elite athletes. Not Tabia Charles.
When doctors advised the lanky four-time long and triple jump national champion that she couldn’t compete this year and that she may never fully regain her range of movement and speed after suffering a serious injury in January 2011, she accepted the prognosis and was ready to move on to the next phase of her life.
Charles, who turns 27 on April 6, rolled her right ankle so badly that the ligaments were torn from the bone.
“It was really bad, but I thought I was going to be able to come back,” said Charles, who was also a sprinter. “I was training hard, but I have lost so much range in my foot and there is still some pain. All I wanted was for my doctor to tell me the truth. I came to terms with that and am set to move on.”
The daughter of Antiguan parents used her track and field scholarship to the University of Miami to graduate on the Dean’s list, having obtained her psychology degree in three years instead of the normal four. Along the way, she became the first jumper in the history of the University of Miami Hurricanes to earn All-American honours in the long and triple jump events at the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) indoor championships and in the NCAA outdoor long jump in 2004.
Performing at a high level in the classroom and on the track were targets the seven-time Atlantic Coast Conference champion set. Not everyone thought they were realistic.
“I set a lot of goals and there were many people who thought I was a dreamer,” said Charles who earned eight All-American honours, including a national championship in the triple jump in 2006. “I am a hustler and I learned a long time ago that you could dream big and that you should never put all your eggs in one basket. Instead of taking 12 credits, I did 18 and 21. I also had a Plan B to go with Plan A.”
Charles took some human resources courses and plans to go back to school full-time to pursue a Master’s Degree in human resources management and industrial relations. With a passion for fashion, starting a personal clothing line is also a possibility.
This is the second devastating foot injury Charles has suffered since her interest in athletics peaked in Grade Six. In January 2008, she underwent surgery to repair a torn meniscus in her knee. She was back competing five months later and in June of that year, she set a new Canadian long jump record with a personal best 6.82 metres in Greece.
A few weeks later in Windsor, the Pine Ridge Secondary School 2002 Athlete of the Year made the Olympic qualifying standard in the long jump at the national championships. She won the triple jump at the same meet but did not reach the required Olympic level.
Charles made a fashion statement at the trials competing with one of her legs covered in a black fishnet stocking and a streak of pink in her hair.
In Beijing, she qualified for the long jump final, finishing10th with a distance of 6.47 metres, Canada’s best in that Olympics event. Two years ago, she captured bronze medals in the long and triple jump events at the Commonwealth Games in New Delhi.
Charles said she does not have any regrets that her sports career is over.
“It was nice to compete, travel and meet amazing people,” said the athlete whose cousin, Ruperta Charles, represented Antigua & Barbuda in the 100-metre contest and the sprint relay at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics.
She plans to share her sports and life experiences with young people.
By RON FANFAIR