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Black History Month - Solomon Maragh: Jamaica‘s first ever canoe slalom athlete

For Black History Month, and as part of our #WePaddleTogether commitments to celebrate role models from under-represented groups, and listen to diverse, intersectional voices, we are pleased to share the insights and stories from across the paddling community.

Manvers Waterfront Boat Club member Solomon Maragh competed at the 2021 ICF Canoe Slalom Under 23 and Junior World Championships earlier this year, becoming Jamaica‘s first ever canoe slalom athlete.

 

This is Solomon’s story…

“I was born in Sheffield, train at nearby Manvers Waterfront Boat Club and am proud to be Jamaica’s first canoe slalom athlete making my debut at a World Championships.

“I want to be the first Jamaican to step onto an Olympic podium for Canoe Slalom. I know we have limited resources but I will continue to train hard and learn as much as I can to do my best.

“Jamaica’s motto ‘Out of Many One People’ comes from the succession of rulers of our Island along with the history of enslaved people from Africa and workers from India and China.

“My grandparents are Indian-Caribbean as my great-grandparents came over from India as children. My grandparents are part of the Windrush Generation, who came to the UK, got jobs, got married and started a family.

“My dad was born in Sheffield and married mum, whose family is from County Durham and they took me all over in the canoe, sit on top and kayak before I could even walk.

“I developed an interest in slalom, and now I have a dream to race at the highest level possible. In 2019, I became a Jamaican citizen and took the first major step to getting to the Olympics.”

 

The theme for Black History Month this year is “Proud to be” – what does that mean to you?

“Primarily known for our domination of track events, Jamaica is widening its sporting representation, and I am proud to be Jamaica’s first canoe slalom athlete.

“In 2021, we paddled onto the world stage in canoe slalom when, at the age of 16, I crossed the start line at the Junior World Championships in Tacen, Slovenia making history, in not one, but two events as I competed in the Kayak and Extreme Slalom races – both Olympic events.

“I was excited, nervous and proud to be Jamaican and it’s my job to set the standard and example for other Jamaicans to follow.”

 

What have your experiences been as a Black paddler? What challenges have you experienced?

“As a developing nation with just short of 60 years of independence, Jamaica is establishing its political, economic and sporting structures and priorities, so coaching, training and logistic costs are self-funded.

“This is a significant challenge to any developing nation, especially for those with no history in paddlesports and with other priorities.

“The Jamaican Canoe Federation (JCF) were more familiar with sprint and after some initial confusion, I was registered with the ICF as a canoe slalom athlete and entered into the 2020 Pan-American Championships with a slim chance to qualify for the Olympics.

“The Covid pandemic cancelled this and my focus switched to the Junior Worlds where I made history.”

 

What would you like to share with people wanting to make paddling more inclusive and welcoming of Black communities? 

“My local club is supportive and hosted the launch of the Jamaica kit, although in most clubs we've been to, there aren't many or any black paddlers and therefore no role models or significant cultural awareness.

“It would be great if clubs could look at the community they draw from and do some outreach to make sure the club membership reflects this. I know Manvers are keen to do more.”

 

Solomon will be back in action at the British Open, taking place on 30-31 October at Lee Valley White Water Centre.