What a difference a year makes.
Twelve months ago, Trinidad & Tobago (T & T) cyclist Njisane Phillip was in a California hospital with severe stomach pains just weeks after setting a new national record – 9.643 secs. – for the flying 200-metre time trial at an International Cycling Union (UCI) World Cup event in Aguascalientes, Mexico.
Multiple tests revealed the 23-year-old rider’s kidneys were overloaded with protein, forcing his body into a ketosis state.
While protein is an essential body nutrient, an excess can lead to weight gain, kidney stones, elevated risks of osteoporosis and kidney and heart disease.
Phillip admitted he was terrified during his brief hospitalization.
“I was in a bad state and depressed,” he told Share while in the Greater Toronto Area recently for the Milton International Challenge at the new velodrome that will be used for this summer’s Pan Am Games. “That was just a bad period for me.”
He said the ordeal was a wake-up call that forced him to pay closer attention to the food he consumes.
“I eat a lot of candy and junk food,” he said. “As I get older, my body is starting to mature and I am learning that the horrible food I am eating is no longer good. I am starting to treat my body right as I move forward.”
In contrast to 2014, Phillip started this year on a high note by teaming up with Keron Bramble and Kwesi Browne to clinch the gold medal in 46.352 secs. in the men’s sprint relay on the first day of the meet. He also captured a bronze medal in the individual sprint.
Not surprisingly, Phillip was extremely pleased with the performance.
“Last year was very tough for me, so it’s good to start this year on a good note,” he said.
Based in California where the temperature two weeks ago was around 14 degrees Celsius, Phillip said the only drawback was the extreme cold weather which – with a wind chill – hovered around -25 degrees Celsius.
“I just couldn’t believe it could get this bad,” he said. “It’s the coldest weather I have ever experienced. It was even worse for the riders coming from Trinidad where the temperature is around 27 degrees Celsius.”
This was the first international meet held on the new 250-metre timber track, which came in for high praise from Phillip.
“It’s a beautiful track that reminds me of the one in Manchester which I really love,” he said. “It just has a good feel and vibe that makes it perfect.”
In November 2013, Phillip became the first T & T cyclist to win a UCI World Cup medal – silver – in Manchester.
Desmond Dickie, the T & T coach, is satisfied with the strides Phillip has made in the last year.
“Njisane had some challenges to deal with, but he has put in the time and effort into his training to get back on track,” said Dickie. “He’s still young in the sport and competing against riders who are far more experienced than him.”
Phillip competed in the UCI World Cup in Cali, Colombia last weekend.
“With the cycling season winding down, I will go back to the drawing board and look at what I need to work on to improve and get better,” he said. “I really want to do well at the Pan Am Games.”
Born in Siparia, South Trinidad, Phillip spent four years in Florida where his father – Nicholson Phillip, a former cyclist – introduced him to the sport. Returning to the twin-island republic at age 13, he attended high school before moving back to the U.S. and later attending the UCI World Cycling Centre in Switzerland for six months to hone his skills.
The first T & T cyclist to break the 10-second mark for the flying 200-metre sprint when he clocked 9.977 secs. at the 2011 Pan American Games in Guadalajara, Mexico four years ago, Phillip was the only cyclist from the English-speaking Caribbean to participate in the 2012 London Olympics, where he finished fourth in the individual sprint.
When asked if Phillip is the best sprinter T & T has produced, Dickie said it’s difficult to make that call.
“It’s a different era and the cyclists are doing much faster times,” said the veteran coach, who has lived in Canada for the past 51 years. “When you look at someone like Gene Samuel (he represented T & T at four consecutive summer Olympics), he was riding 10.4 and 10.5. Now, the riders are clocking 9.5. What I will say is that Njisane is the best cyclist in T & T right now and definitely a world-class competitor.”
Phillip is seeking to become the third Trinidadian cyclist to medal in a Canadian Pan Am Games.
Winnipeg is the only other Canadian city to host the quadrennial event in 1967 and 1999.
Roger Gibbon won gold medals in the 1,000-metre match sprint and kilo time trial events 48 years ago while Mario Joseph, who resides in the United States, captured a bronze medal in the Games’ inaugural keirin sprint in 1999.
Other T & T wheelsmen with Pan Am Games medals are Samuel and the late Leslie King.