Anguilla’s young world-renowned sprinter, Zharnel Hughes, returned to his alma mater – the Orealia Kelly Primary School (in his day the Stoney Ground School) – on Tuesday this week, where he was warmly welcomed and applauded.

He went there to thank the teachers who gave him the encouragement and support he needed, in his early life, to succeed and to meet and inspire the students he never knew before. He told the youngsters that, just like him they, too, can be successful in whatever area of life or study they wanted. Only two things they had to do: trust in God and work hard.
Zharnel, one of Anguilla’s outstanding stars in regional and international athletics, was accompanied to the school by Chief Minister, Victor Banks, the other Ministers, Government Assistants, Parliamentary Secretary and the Acting Director of Sports.

Minister responsible for Sports, Evans McNiel Rogers, presided over the event in association with the Principal of the school, Ms. Paula Etienne. He was delighted that another former student, Shara Proctor, whose portrait hangs on the wall, had also made both Anguilla and the school proud, and he saw Zharnel eventually achieving an international gold medal.

“You have seen Zharnel on television everywhere, and it is always a pleasure to realise that his humble beginnings and schooling started right here at this school… and now he is an international superstar,” Mr. Rogers told the students. “I am looking at several other Anguillian international superstars whether in sports, academics including law, medicine, nursing, teaching and so on, and you too have an opportunity to be another Zharnel or Shara Proctor.” He congratulated Zharnel not only for representing Anguilla in championship sports, but Great Britain as well. “You have been an inspiration to us, and have given us the sort of fuel to move forward and be able to lobby more effectively for an athletic track facility for Anguilla,” he said to Zharnel.

Chief Minister Banks joined in welcoming the athlete to his former school. “The whole of Anguilla gets goose bumps when Zharnel is running because we are so proud of his achievements,” he told the students. “We are here to give him his opportunity to talk to you so that you can identify with him. He sat in the same classroom where you are now sitting; played on the same playing field, and now he has done well and we want to celebrate with him.”

A round of applause filled the auditorium as Zharnel rose to his feet to speak. He traced his early years in competitive sports in the region including the CARIFTA Games and other athletic meets, and the various medals he won for Anguilla from ten years old. He also spoke about the several international competitions in which he participated, particularly his favourite 200m sprints. These included the New York Diamond League in March 2015 when he almost beat Usain Bolt, and the London Diamond League which he won some four months later in July, competing with other athletes other than Bolt. He also recently participated in the 2015 World Championships in Beijing in which he represented Great Britain and placed 5th in the men’s 200m finals. Also in Beijing were Shara Proctor, who represented Great Britain in the long jump and placed second, winning a Silver Medal; and Mauriel Carty, who represented Anguilla in the 200m, but without placing.
Recalling his near win against Bolt in the New York Diamond League, Zharnel told the students: “…I saw Usain Bolt right there with me and I said [to myself]you know what, let’s go for it. And the race started and it was Bolt and I, and Bolt and I, to the finish line; and Bolt beat me by 0.3 seconds. Bolt was like this: ‘Zharnel you almost beat me, you know’. I felt great because, as a youngster, I never see anybody came that close to Usain Bolt. To see that I can do it shows that I am ready.”