Looking back, it seems that cycling saved Njisane Phillip’s life. If it wasn’t for the sport, the 21-year-old’s story may have been a darker, different one. Instead, it’s a success story as Phillip prepares to compete in his very first Olympic games as Trinidad and Tobago’s lone cycling representative. Phillip started riding at the age of nine when he migrated to the US to live with his father. The activity was initially a bonding exercise for his father to make up for the years he lost with his son and the Siparia native enjoyed it, especially since his cousins also rode. By the age of 13, Phillip was back in Trinidad and he put cycling behind him, mainly because of his mother who just wanted him to focus on school. But that was the last place he wanted to be. Describing himself as ADD, Phillip said he got into a lot of trouble at the Penal school he attended. “I was so mischievous they moved me from Form One to Form three just to get me out early,” he told Metro via Skype. “I have ADD so anytime I sit down too long I go crazy. I just used to talk all the time, mess with people and fight,” he recalled. He was sent to a psychologist who recommended that he take up a sport to keep him out of trouble. His mother immediately put him back in cycling and he started to do well on the local circuit.
When he moved back to the US, Phillip decided to take his cycling to the next level. He started excelling in the sport, winning a few meets but the better he did on the track, the worse he did at school. A competition in Trinidad changed his life forever. “I came down to Trinidad to compete on the national team for the Easter Grand Prix and Larry Romany of the Trinidad and Tobago Olympic Committee saw my talent and encouraged me to go pro. They wanted to send me to Switzerland. It was a big decision to leave school. I was in the 11th Grade at the time but I didn’t like school so I turned pro at 17, moved out of my father’s home and went to Switzerland.” In Switzerland, Phillip attended the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI), a cycling centre where he trained full time. After six months, Phillip left the programme and moved to California where he currently resides and trains. Driven by a desire to be the best, Phillip planned to qualify for the 2016 Olympics in Brazil but his performance at various International Cycling Union Olympic Qualifiers earned him enough points to make it to London this month. Phillip leaves to join the rest of the local Olympians in the UK on July 25 and so far he is not fazed by the enormous responsibility on his shoulders as our lone cyclist in the Games.
“I try not to think, it’s a lot of pressure. I am just trying to keep myself in a great state of mind. I just tell myself that you are not supposed to be here anyway, since my plan was for 2016. But I’ve been given an opportunity and I will make the most of it.”Asked how he prepares for a race, Phillip said he gets into the zone with soca. His playlist is long, he said, but he listens to a lot of music from Bunji Garlin as well as songs from Superblue, Machel Montano, Destra, Fay Ann Lyons and Kes the Band.Reflecting on his journey to the Olympics, Phillip, who trains with the US national team, said he would like to see Trinidad and Tobago get more serious about sports and invest in an institute with full time trainers, coaches, doctors, therapists and psychologists.“In every sport we have talent but it’s like we always have to leave and go somewhere else. I tell my dad sometimes when I get frustrated that we’ll never do well, we’ll only get silver and bronze because all we do is ask for favours.”Still, he said he is thankful for all the support he has received especially from his adoring fans on Facebook and Twitter and his sponsors: Oasis Water, Bmobile, DirecTV, BpTT and Beacon Insurance.