Surrounded by family, friends, coaches, 17-year-old Bahamian sprinting sensation, Jaida Knowles committed to the University of Kentucky Wildcats to continue her education and track and field career next year fall.
She made the decision on Saturday, November 30, at a signing party at Conch and Kalik, Downtown Nassau. In her reveal she pulled out a life-size centerfold that read “Congrats Jaida” on a Wildcats blue background. A picture of her in the uniform and the Wildcats’ logo was also on the centerfold.
The St. Augustine’s College Grade 12 student said that three things led to her decision.
“I think everyone should have their three main things they look for in a school,” Knowles said. “Mine were good coaches, good education, and good dorms. Kentucky offered just that and a little extra having Bahamian coaches including Debbie Ferguson, former Olympian and also a team that made me feel very comfortable and at home around them.”
The head coach at Kentucky is Bahamian Lonnie Green. Ferguson-McKenzie sent her a message via voice message saying how elated they are to have her on the team while competing her Bachelor’s Degree.
“Coach Green and staff are some of the best in the business,” Ferguson-McKenzie said. “We look forward to welcoming you on campus for Fall 2020 and to assist you in the next four years of new ventures and wonderful experiences. It will be filled with challenges and obstacles. However, know that you can and will accomplish all things while being simply amazing. Go Jaida and Go ‘Cats.”
It was an early commitment from Knowles and she said she did it because she did not plan on doing anymore visits, and she knows that it can get hectic in her senior year.
One of Knowles’ biggest fans who can be seen and heard cheering from the stands when she is on the track is her mother, Tami Forbes. She was elated to see her daughter take this step of her career.
“As a parent there is no greater feeling than seeing your child set their own goals, work hard at it and eventually reap the reward of their efforts,” Forbes said. “Jaida always had a competitive spirit both academically and athletically, and I am extremely proud that she excels in both areas which has now paid off and gives her this opportunity to attend the university of her choice; to be able to pursue the career of her choice while competing in a sport that she absolutely loves.” Forbes added that she expects nothing less than what she has shown so far, which is focus, respect for self and others, faith in God, commitment, discipline and hard work.
Geoffrey Knowles, who is also known as Jay, Jaida’s father, was dressed with the Wildcats gear and wearing a proud smile to see his daughter go off.
“It has been a long road – part easy, stressful. I am just happy it had come to an end so far. High school finished and college now so we have four or five years and hope that she continues to excel like she did in high school,” the elder Knowles said.
The younger Knowles is grateful for her parents’ support in her track and field career by making sure she had what she needed to be the best, and for cheering her on at track meets.
Jaida Knowles runs for the Star Trackers Track Club that is ran by renown coach David Charlton. She works directly under Rudolph Ferguson, her sprint coach.
“I know Jaida from she was about seven or eight years old. We watched her progression through primary school, junior high and high school. We knew this day was coming. This is no accident, we saw the jubilances, victories, disappointments and injuries so to see her sign tonight with Kentucky is a tremendous achievement,” Ferguson said.
Knowles spoke highly of coaches Charlton and Ferguson in helping her achieve this much success.
“Having the best coaches in The Bahamas, it was easy to trust them when they would tell me the plans they had for me. I remember last year when I was finished with a workout and nearly about to pass out laying on the track, they would always tell me ‘it’s all going to be worth it when you sign those dotted lines’. From young, they created my success story and now I’m just living what they already had plan from the beginning and I could not have done it without them.”
The gifted sprinter will be doing a bachelor’s of science degree in sports medicine while at Kentucky. A major that was inspired by her injuries as an athlete.
“As an athlete, spending long sessions in therapy, especially this year after my injury, I became very interested in the field and began to understand my own body more and how it works. I think that if I was the become a sports medicine physician, being a former athlete, I would be able to help younger athletes understand their body and get them healthy to prove at their best while still being involved in the sports field, which is where my heart is,” Knowles said.
This year, Knowles suffered a season-ending injury at the 2019 North American, Central American and Caribbean Athletic Association (NACAC) Under-18 (U18) and Under-23 (U23) Athletics Championships, in Santiago de Querétaro, Mexico in June. She ran the U23 100 meters (m)heat in 11.84 seconds before the injury happened when she ran in the finals.
She is healthy and training again, and will be looking to enjoy her final year at SAC and hopefully be a part of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics team.
“I did recover from my injury and I am back on the track training and doing the necessary things to make sure this season is smooth sailing, and I am trying my best to avoid having another mishap like that again,” Knowles said.
She continued: “This year, my coaches and myself expect nothing but great things. I have set my goals and I am determined to meet them so that’s exactly what I am going to do. The biggest goal I have for myself is to be a part of the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo as that was the dream I had for myself from a very young age.”
This year, Knowles was flawless in the 100m and the 200m dash at the Bahamas Independent Secondary School (BAISS) Track and Field Championships and the National High School Championships, winning the gold medal.
The quiet but determined athlete said she felt like she has made her mark at SAC, but this being her last year, she is looking forward to a win at BAISS Championships.
In additional to the NACAC U18 and U23, she also made the national team for the 2019 CARIFTA Games that was held in George Town, Curacao, and she was selected to go to the Pan American U20 Championship in San Jose, Costa Rica but did not make the trip due to the injury. She was also at the Penn Relays in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Her personal best in the 100m is 11.68 seconds and 23.85 seconds in the 200m. Both of those were done at last year’s CARIFTA Games in locally in Nassau.
Forbes had this advice to parents of athletes: “Support your children no matter what level they are at. Competition is not easy and can take a mental toll. Your child needs to see you on the sidelines cheering them in victory and encouraging them in defeat. This advice can go academically as well. Be aware of your child’s progress and find out their areas of strengths and weakness and work toward improvement. Yes, colleges do want great athletes but they also want well rounded students.”
Knowles will link up with former SAC and national teammate in sprinter Megan Moss, who is in her freshman year at Kentucky.