The Canadians, waist deep in the ocean and jumping the waves as they roll in, look more fit than the usual St. Kitts beach crowd.
This bit of fun is just a brief interlude to their training day. The cold Atlantic Ocean is good for sore leg muscles and, after the workout they have just finished, they are aching and tired. They are already thinking about the nap that will come next.
On this day, March 27, the wind was swirling and the waves were bigger and rolling in faster than usual.
Daundre Barnaby and Gavin Smellie teased Khamica Bingham that she was too little to be playing in such big waves.
But, a few minutes later, it was Barnaby who was in trouble.
“Help — I can’t touch,” he shouted to his teammates who were a little closer to shore, in shallower water.
“Everyone thought he was joking, at first,” Smellie recalled later. “But I looked at his face and I saw that he was panicked.”
“Gavin, help me!” Barnaby yelled. But it was not help he could give: Smellie can’t swim.
But Kimberly Hyacinthe can, and she tried to swim towards Barnaby. But the current was so strong that her teammates were soon scrambling to pull her back to safety.
They were all screaming — for help from other people on the beach, for Barnaby to swim towards them, but with each wave he was pulled farther and farther away until they could not see him anymore.
Three-and-a-half hours later, rescue divers found Barnaby six feet under the water, his leg caught on a reef ledge.
To lose someone so senselessly and so young — Barnaby, a 400-metre specialist from Brampton, was just 24 — was difficult to handle, coach Desai Williams says: “They were just jumping waves.”
And, yet, the very next day, the coaches and athletes were back at the track training — wearing black and, in Smellie’s case, crying as he made his way around the track, thinking of the friend who had been beside him the day before.
That they returned to their job —the track — the day after losing a teammate and friend may seem surprising, uncaring even. It’s not. There is grief here; plenty of it, but there’s also purpose. It’s a purpose they shared with Barnaby, and it goes on even without him.
“These athletes are uniquely focused and accustomed to putting on blinders to let distractions go off to the side,” says Herbie Kuhn, the team’s chaplain, who arrived in St. Kitts the next day. “They know what they’re training for, they know they have Pan Ams coming up, nationals and then, hopefully, Rio.
“Something like this happening is not going to throw them off. If anything, it will make them be more appreciative and more focused on their training.”
Sitting in a hotel grieving isn’t good for anyone. The track is their common ground with each other and with their lost teammate.
But it was Barnaby’s mother, Janet Dickens, who really helped the athletes see their way through what happened, Smellie says.
“She said Daundre would want us to keep going and not give up,” he says. “She encouraged us to continue.”
Three weeks later, as she stood in a parking lot in Mississauga waiting to go inside a worship centre for her son’s funeral, Dickens was a picture of strength and sadness.
“The team gave me strength,” she says, quietly. Flying down to St. Kitts to be with the team that had meant so much to her son was “a dignifying moment that helped me.”
In the weeks between the death of Barnaby and his funeral, the athletes stayed at their training camp, focusing on their work. They returned home just in time for the service.
The day after they buried their friend, most of them left again, this time for a training camp in Florida ahead of the world relay meet.
But April 18 was for Barnaby. The two dozen runners who trained with him daily — and many other athletes and coaches, all wearing their Team Canada jackets —packed tightly into four rows of pews.
It’s a sad day, bishop Lennox Walker says, looking at Barnaby’s mother, his father and stepmother — Clive and Cordell — his brothers and sister and other family.
“May you find comfort,” Walker says, “that he lived his life with purpose.”
That’s often said at times like this, but here, especially for the athletes fighting back tears, it holds a great deal of meaning.
Barnaby, a 2012 Olympian, wanted to use the finishing kick he was known for to win a medal in Toronto, in front of family and friends, and, beyond that, do Canada proud at the next Olympics in Rio.
That goal, that purpose, is shared by just about every athlete who sat in the pews, and each one of them is promised themselves to work just a little harder to make Barnaby proud.
“Because of him we, as a team, are closer and because of him we are all stronger,” Bingham says in her tribute. “We are destined to do great things, run our hearts out for him, for our country.”