Watching helplessly as teammate Daundre Barnaby was swept into the Caribbean Sea to his death a few weeks ago, Khamica Bingham’s father’s words kept resonating over and over.
“My dad is a bit paranoid and before I go on any trip, he would always tell me not to go far into the water,” said the sprinter. “As that situation unfolded, I just kept hearing his voice.”
Jamaican-born Barnaby, who became a citizen three years ago and represented Canada months later at the London Olympics, drowned in St. Kitts on March 27.
He was part of a group of 20 national athletes who arrived on the island four days earlier for a training camp at Athletics Canada East Hub in the eastern Caribbean island. This was their third trip to the island this year.
The athletes train during the winter at the Silver Jubilee Stadium, which was upgraded two years ago with equipment donations from Athletics Canada.
A few of the athletes went into the water behind the St. Kitts Marriott Resort & The Royal Beach Casino after an early morning training session with coaches Anthony McCleary, Desai Williams and Charles Allen, who represented Guyana and Canada in the Summer Olympics.
“After practice, we would occasionally go into the ocean for the salt water which helps with the recovery of our legs,” said Bingham, the recipient of the 2013 Ken Giles Award presented to the top amateur athlete in Brampton. “That morning, Daundre had a hard workout and that is why he wanted to go into the water where we would spend about 10 to 15 minutes jumping waves and having some fun.”
Bingham and Barnaby walked together to the beach where they met Kimberly Hyacinthe, Gavin Smellie, Sam Effah and Bismark Boateng.
“The waves were a bit high and we stayed closer to the shore than we normally would have,” said Bingham. “Because Daundre was a little bit taller, he went a little further out. He told us he could touch the ground and he was trying to get Gavin to come out and join him. Gavin, however, refused as he’s not a good swimmer.”
All was going well until an unusually high wave rolled in.
“It picked him up and he started to float,” said Bingham, a 2014 Canadian Interuniversity Sport Athlete of the Year nominee. “He told us he couldn’t feel the ground anymore and he called out to Gavin for help. We thought he was trying to bait Gavin to join him a little further out, so we didn’t take him seriously. It was only after calling out for help a second time did we realize that he might be in trouble.”
Hyacinthe, who was the closest to Barnaby, tried to rescue her teammate.
“Without thinking, I went to get him,” the 200-metre specialist said. “The current was pulling him and I couldn’t grab him. I tried to calm Daundre down, but there was not much else I could do at that stage. I had some difficulty coming back in and had to go underwater and swim for a bit before my other teammates helped me get back to shore.”
Bingham estimates Barnaby was in the water for nearly four hours before two divers recovered his body.
“They brought him to shore and he was all swollen up,” she said. “A doctor arrived soon afterward and pronounced him dead.”
Athletics Canada responded immediately, dispatching a psychologist and chaplain to the island to support the grieving athletes and coaching staff. Barnaby’s father and stepmother, who reside in Brampton and his mother, Janet Dickens, who is based in Connecticut, joined the distraught group a few days later.
“Though devastated by the death of her son, Daundre’s mother is a very strong woman and she encouraged us to stay on in the island and continue with our training program,” said Bingham. “She said her son would have wanted us to do that.”
The athletes and coaches flew back to Toronto last Wednesday.
A six-time Ontario Federation of School Athletic Associations (OFSAA) champion in the 100- and 200-metre events while attending Heart Lake Secondary School in Brampton, Bingham met Barnaby three years ago after he graduated from Mississippi State.
“We became very close and we had a brother and sister relationship,” she said. “He was talented, hardworking, easy going, very funny and someone who loved to make people laugh. This is the first time I have lost someone so close and while this has been the most difficult period in my life, I have pledged to go out there and do great things for Daundre who was really looking forward to competing in the Pan Am Games.”
Barnaby’s family has launched a fundraiser to collect US$35,000 to cover the cost of his autopsy, flying his body back to Canada and the funeral, which took place last Saturday in Mississauga. Some of the funds will be placed in trust to establish a scholarship fund in his name.
Interested donors can go to the Athletics Canada website, www.athletics.ca, and click on the link for the Daundre Barnaby Celebration of Life.