As we celebrate International Women's Day with a series of interviews from across the international community, this is an inspirational and heart-warming interview from the Caribbean island of Trinidad and Tobago.
Ayanna McCLean is well known across the international hockey community as a leading umpire and video umpire. What may be less well-known is that she is following in her mother’s footsteps.
In this, the fifth interview celebrating women across the five hockey-playing continents, we catch up with mother and daughter team Ayanna and Cherill McCLean as they talk about their respective hockey journeys.
“We are here to celebrate the achievements of women in their own space, be it culture, social, economic and, obviously in our case, sport,” says Ayanna.
“My physical education teacher at school invited me to join the school hockey team and, at that age, I would do anything rather than go home,” says Cherill. That first involvement led to Sheryl becoming first a player and then an umpire at international level.
There is very little surprise that Ayanna has followed a path into hockey. She says she was “virtually born on hockey pitch”, but she also joined her mother as a member of the Ventures Hockey Club, the oldest women’s sports club in Trinidad and Tobago.
“I’ve always been surrounded by really strong women in my life,” says Ayanna.
Cherill was also one of the first female sports writers in Trinidad and Tobago. She says: “There never used to be anything about hockey in the newspapers, so I said one day ‘I am going to the newspaper to find out why there’s nothing about hockey’.”
The newspaper editor invited Cherill to write about hockey, but two months later, she found herself at the start of a 30-year sports writing career that saw the journalist writing about every sport, not just hockey.
“That is the thing about my mum’s career,” says Ayanna, “she has always been travelling and I quickly got used to dropping her off at the airport and getting gifts when she returned. I think that was inspirational and showed me to go after what I want. I’ve never sat down and thought about what advice mum has given me, it was more through her experiences and the fact that she allowed me to make my own decisions from an early age.”
Looking back at the role her mother has played in her life as an athlete and an umpire, Ayanna says, “I didn’t make it onto the U21 national team and I was one of the last people to get cut from the squad. I was crying my eyes out when I came home.”
Cherill takes up the story. “I could see she had been crying and I said: ‘Ayanna, this is not going to be the end of your career, it is going to be your biggest disappointment. There will be other disappointments, but you will never forget this one.”
Several years on and Ayanna is on the verge of umpiring at her first Olympic Games. She says that, while it is a proud personal achievement, it is also something that she feels she is doing for her club, her country and for the PAHF region. And, she says: “All the support and shoulders I have got from my mother, now going into an Olympic Games, having someone like this in my back pocket has always been inspirational.”