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Cyprian Fernandes: Born to Run! Laura Ramos

Lami with high school championship trophy for St. Mary's in Bombay.

 Mombasa G.I. Girls' netball team vs. Tanga. (Laura, kneeling far right)



Lami (goalie) with St. Marys' hockey team in Bombay 


Mombasa G. I. hockey team. (Laura set record).

 

On the podium with Phila Fernandes and Joanita Noronha for the 220 m. at the Coast Annual Championships in Mombasa.

         
                                 By Laura Ramos    
                                                                    
My sprinting career began ever since I could walk.  I was the only girl in a family of four boys.  For four years, I seemed to be an embarrassment to my older brothers, as I was shy, awkward, and spoke only Portuguese, Kiswahili and understood Konkani.  They kept running away from me anytime I tried to tag along.  I had no friends, and always hid behind my mother when her friends visited us.  So I spoke very little and became a good listener and learned by rote.  My greatest joy was to run, climb trees, and play boy games – gilly-danda, marbles, seven tiles and whittling wood to make toys.  I could make catapults from scratch and dabbled in kite making. 
     Four years later my third brother was born and two years after him a fourth, sealing my destiny to become a tomboy and a tough one, too.  The first day in school, I was a misfit.  I cried when I had to leave my brothers, and take my place in the kindergarten class, with a stern teacher at the front.  I began sniveling non-stop, until the teacher got fed up, seized my hand, and marched me to my older brother’s class.   He was embarrassed and angry, but seemed ready to protect me if anybody made fun of the situation.  I wowed then, that I would never embarrass any of my family again.  So I shut my mouth and absorbed every lesson.  That year, I took the first prize in English and loved it.  School became fun, and learning became my ‘best friend’!  My classmates noticed my skills in Physical Education and sports.  I had a trove of good friends, some of whom I keep in touch with to this day. 
    In 1960, my father, who worked for the Medical Department, was transferred to Mombasa where he worked at the Government Hospital on Salim Road.  It took him about 30 minutes to get to work from Hobley Road.  My brothers were enrolled in the Goan School in Ganjoni and I was enrolled at The Star of the Sea School on Salim Road near the Goan Institute.  My school was co-ed from Kandi to grade 7.  I graduated with a grade I Cambridge Overseas Certificate.  I then studied at the Coast Teacher Training College.  It was here that I had the chance to play netball, and gymnastics was a part of Physical Training.  Two years later, I was selected by the Principal of the Arab Girls’ School to teach at the newly opened facility specializing in Physical Education.  The students had never been to a public school before, and they were faced with many challenges and a close eye was kept to make sure strict Muslim rules were adhered to.  Many were natural athletes, and welcomed the protection of high school walls so they could remove their ‘burkas’ (head and body cover) and participate freely in all physical activities.
     In my teens, I joined the Coast Athletic Club (Achilles Club) run by Coach Ray Batchelor.  Albert Castanha, Seraphino Antao, Pascal Antao, Alfred Viana, Phila Fernandes, Joanita Noronha and Meldrita were some of those that trained with me. I took part in the 100m 200m sprints as well as the shot put, long and triple and high jumps. 
      After school, I corrected student work and prepared lessons for the next day.  Then I walked with my sports bag 800 yards away to a track next to the Goan Institute Club sports field.  All alone, I warmed up doing stretches, then practiced starts and sprints ending with jogs and cooling down exercises.  By 5:00 p.m.  I removed my spikes and walked to the club pavilion where my fellow field hockey players were gathering for practice.  There I formed two teams and began practicing skills needed to be competition ready.  By now there was a group of male experts to help with coaching. 

I then went to nearby badminton courts to work on game skills for singles, doubles and mixed doubles.  I followed these routine most weekdays.  I travelled to other states for competitions and to play against rival teams. I was selected as Sportswoman of the Year 1962.

        I met my husband, Lami, in 1960 when he came from Dar-es-Salaam after East Africa and other states got their independence from Britain.      He played football and field hockey for St. Mary’s School in Bombay and for the Goan Institute in Dar-es-Salaam.  It was destiny that brought us together.  It was a difficult time as many government workers were losing jobs to indigenous people.  This is when Lami proposed and I accepted, determined that we could begin life together anywhere.  He went to Dar-es-Salaam to work in the private sector, and after finding an apartment; we set our wedding date and were married in April 1964.  By this time, Lami was working for Alitalia Airlines.  We made two trips to Rome with our first and then 2 boys.  I worked as a teacher at a model school attached to the Teacher Training Center where I met Helen Alpert.  We became good friends until she finished her contract and returned to America. 

In 1969, we were allotted green cards to immigrate to America after a 4 year wait.  Our trip to France took hours.  From Paris to New York 8 hours, where we were snowed in for two days.  At the home of Lami’s Italian friend based in New York, “Mummy, and look! It’s Christmas!” yelled my oldest, seated at the window.  He had seen a Christmas card with a picture of drawn curtains opening to a snow storm.  After two days, the plane took off on the flight to Los Angeles and then to Santa Ana, California.  As I stood with my family at the door of the plane, I had an indescribable feeling of peace and freedom, the warm sun bathing us with Hope. Our friend, Helen, greeted us with open arms.  We had kept in touch, and when she heard that we were going to settle in NY, she had written,

“That’s a concrete jungle!  Come to California.”  She had set up our apartment down to flowers in vases with a group of friends.
    
Lami got a job with Western Airlines a year later (a 45 miles, one way commute to LA).  I went to college at night, working part time at schools to pay for it.  We made time for tennis and badminton.  We have kept up a schedule for workouts at the gym.  We talk about the past with nostalgia with many friends that have settled here, not only from Africa, but from Bombay and Goa as well.  We meet many in Toronto at reunions of the Goan School.  Thanks to social networks, we keep connected.  Many have passed away, but the yen to make the connections is alive! 
                                                                                                                        
My thoughts on Sport

  • My biggest rival? Myself, Meldrita Laurente, Phila Fernandes, Juanita Noronha.  This was in the late 1960s at sports meets at the Mombasa Municipality Stadium near my home in Hobley Road, Sports Day on the Goan Institute field in Ganjoni and national meetings in Kabete, Nairobi.  The first meet held at the Municipal Stadium in 1958(?) was most memorable as I won the floating championship trophy and first place in the 100 metre dash, the Shot Put, the Triple Jump and the 4X100 metres relay.  I was in hog heaven!
  • Under Coach Batchelor's guidance, I honed in my sprinting skills, improved starts by watching Albert Castanha, Seraphino Antao and the other male sprinters.  Later he taught me how to use blocks to get shooting starts.  As a coach, he set examples of respect for other competitors, not resting on your laurels, using your inborn energy and talents to be a winner.  I never heard him put down any athlete, and boosted anyone who showed any disappointment in being second-best.  I have used all this advice my entire life in all I do.  I looked up to him as My Hero and a Godsend.  I never have forgotten him as I hold him in the highest esteem as a coach.
  • We were like one big family, striving to do our best, encouraging and cheering each other at practice and sports meets, but having a lot of fun, too.  Albert was like a brother to me. Anytime I met any of them in later years in other countries, they always made it a point to spend time talking about the 'old days' and inquiring about involvement in sports and sharing notes on new achievements.
  • My favorite sport was field hockey because it involved team spirit and hard work.  I was very disciplined any time I played any sports (I am this way in everything I undertake be it studying, teaching, lecturing or presenting at conferences),  It is fun to encourage people to unearth their hidden abilities and use them to full advantage (I still echo Coach Batchelor here).
  • My Dad and Mum were always proud of my achievements as they was were involved in sports (Mom won the championship cup at badminton and her framed photo was displayed at home and at the photographer's shop at the corner of Government Road and the bus Terminal in Nairobi) and Dad played tennis and football for the GI Nairobi.  He often told me how he and his teammates had to hack their way through the bush to get to Tanga, in Tanganyika, to play the opposing team there).  Both loved to tell their friends of my achievements.  
  • Some of the Goan girls who took part in Sports with me:  Phila and Sylvie Fernandes; Meldrita Viegas (nee Laurente); Juanita Ramos (nee Noronha my sis-in-law married to Alvito), (late) Melba De Souza - nee Castellino); Ruth de Souza (Melbourne); Ivy Botello; Diana Barros; Ida Pires; Wenda Carvalho; (late) Selina Viegas; Amy Fernandes; Sybil Correa; and Linda Martyres to name a few.