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Daddy, the Olympic hero

Tuesday, December 31, 2013
TOP: Joanne Kilgour-Dowdy BOTTOM: A young Lennox Kilgour shows off an impressive physique. PHOTOS COURTESY JOANNE KILGOUR-DOWDY

Growing up, Joanne Kilgour-Dowdy’s weekly chore was cleaning her father’s array of trophies. She didn’t know what he won them for, all she knew she had to make sure they were clean. “I had no concept of significance, no scope of impact,” said Kilgour-Dowdy, a professor of adolescent/adult literacy at Kent State University in the Department of Teaching, Leadership and Curriculum and Instruction. Perhaps, by ensuring the trophies were dust-free and attractive to look at, cleaning the trophies may have been a subliminal connection with her father, Lennox Kilgour, the Olympian, who won the bronze medal for weightlifting at the 1952 Games in Helsinki.


As a child, she didn’t know her father’s prowess. She knew him as an artist who painted and collected sculpture, not a muscle-bound man who could have lifted anything. She eventually understood his international claim to fame but it is only now she is telling everyone of her dad, through a book she has written about him entitled Olympic Hero. The plan a year ago was to write a children’s book for ten-year-olds and by Boxing Day (December 26) last year, her pen urged her to write the story about Daddy. The book, she says, still target youngsters at primary-school level—between Standard Three and Standard Five. “The children whom I’ve read to believe the story is written like a poem…with very warm, captivating drawings. To have the visual of the images is to feel part of the experience that has not been told like this. It is a legacy that is in place,” said Kilgour-Dowdy, herself a  Holy Name Convent alumna.
From a literary point of view, Kilgour-Dowdy’s work is a contribution to the Caribbean identity as she presents one of the heroes who made a mark beyond these shores. But for her, it is the insider story of a hero, written by a daughter. 


“It was an intimacy between my father and myself. I had to go to a private place and appreciate what I have and let them in. There is a lot of warmth in this. I luxuriated in the fact that someone wants to give you this special treat,” she said in a long-distance telephone conversation between Ohio and Trinidad. Dr Basil Ince assisted in her research, since he has been recording the feats of T&T athletes and read a draft of the book to ensure accuracy. Alex Chapman, the former secretary general of the T&T Olympic Association, a source of information for Ince’s book, was also supportive of Dowdy-Kilgour’s project. “There is no second-guessing of historical information. But when writing for that age group, you don’t have to dumb down the information. You have to be very intelligent about it,” Kilgour-Dowdy said. Writing the story was also a feat, since she was trying to get it down before the words disappeared. One paragraph was turned into a panel and each day she worked on a panel. She knew if she forced the words she would destroy the flow. The end result was 25 panels that moved along the timeline from birth to the national Hall of Fame.
The first draft was sent to a couple of writers of children’s books. After the second rewrite, there was silence. “That when I started to question myself, wondering, ‘Have you reached that place whether you have told that story, does it resonate how you want it to?’” she said. 


To use her words, the book is very vivid, very soothing tale that left her feeling satisfied at the end. The story about her dad is one about glory but it also reveals the challenges he faced in ensuring he trained hard, was at the best of health while preparing for competition. Although the book is intended for children, adults have enjoyed reading the book. “They adore it,” she says. The overall lesson as noted by a recent review is: “the motivation to succeed, it is a story which could influence young readers to hard work and the resulting rewards.” Writing the book also gave her Kilgour-Dowdy some bragging rights, especially as a Trinidadian living in the United States. As a small islander, a foreigner, she has sat in social circles where the Daddy boast is of great significance. As she observed, Paul Keens-Douglas’ tribute, “My daddy is de best. Best, best, best…” can be adapted in a non-Caribbean setting. Then, she couldn’t say who her dad was because there were no words. Now she has a chance to say her dad won an Olympic medal. “Now, they have to recalibrate all assumptions about the black female immigrant in a predominant white society. I know I have my name, but do others know my name?” she explained. “I could go out into the world and say my daddy is big too, our country too.”  In Trinidad, Kilgour-Dowdy hopes to launch  Olympic Hero next June at Nalis. But it seems half the work is already done since former librarian and Eintou Springer and Joan Osborne of Nalis have pledged endorsements for the book. “There are books we can read…that somewhere has a proud history,” Kilgour-Dowdy said.



Lennox Kilgour was born on May 5, 1928 in Port-of-Spain. He attended Osmond High School. At Osmond, he met several men who would influence his career as a weightlifter, including one of T&T’s top athletes, Carl “Suze” de Souza, who intro­duced Kilgour to the game. In 1946, he won the National Junior Championships. Kilgour won the West Indian Championships in the heavyweight division in 1949. He was the top heavyweight at the Central American Games in 1950, and won a bronze medal at the 1952 Summer Olympics in Helsinki, Finland. He retired in from major international compe­tition at the age of 28 after competing at the Olympics in Melbourne in 1956. Kilgour was honoured in 1985, when he was inducted to the National Hall Sports of Fame. He died in 2004.


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