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Helping youth be their best. Gary Morales - TSTT employee manages triumphant T&T Carifta swim team

Trinidad - In early April of this year swimmers from Trinidad and Tobago’s national team gave a majestic performance at the 2010 Carifta Swimming and Water Polo Championships in Jamaica.

The team took 94 medals (including 46 gold), scored an incredible 1,011 points (300 more than their closest rivals) and set 18 national and Carifta records. Even for a team that has won 18 of the last 25 championships, it was an awe-inspiring showing.

Besides the outstanding performances from young swimmers like Tyla Martin and Joshua Romany, excellent coaching and the hard work of support staff and parents, the national team had an additional asset – Gary Morales.

“Winning is one thing, but seeing young people do their best is for me the ultimate reward,” Morales says of the team’s Carifta victory, speaking from the Marlins Swim Club pool in Westmoorings.

It’s 7am Saturday morning and Morales has just finished up a session with the national squad. He’s energetic and apart from a cup of coffee, giving no sign of the long early-hour commute from south Trinidad. Manager of the national squad is a demanding position and it’s not his only one. When he’s not wearing a flag-branded polo, he’s in a shirt and tie, operating as a senior professional in TSTT’s Professional Risk and Network Fraud Department.

He credits both his current position and previous TSTT post in its human resource department as keys to his success as a team manager.

“I think my ability to interact with people is my strongest management quality. I firmly believe in relationship leadership rather than authoritative leadership. In my management training at TSTT we were taught to see people as assets rather than liabilities. Once you work with people you have to think win/win. It’s not about you. It’s about the bigger objective.”

Mr. Morales’s relationship with TSTT had other benefits for the Carifta team. The company was a sponsor of the national team.

“Swimming is an expensive sport and the parents (of swimmers) are really taxed,” he explained. “As a manager one of the things you need to do is make it easier for them. For the Carifta team we received full sponsorship. Government was a major sponsor and TSTT came through as well. It feels good when your company backs you up. It says they believe in what you are doing.”

Even outside of the Carifta winners TSTT has been a regular sponsor of local swimming. The company is a sponsor of Olympic medallist George Bovell III’s swim clinic. TSTT is also the sponsor of the TSTT Foundation’s National Annual Secondary School’s Swim Meet.

“They got involved with the national team,” Mr. Morales said, “before there were the big victories. So it was an investment in the sport – which I commend them for. That goes a long way to encourage the development of the sport. Young people are recognised and rewarded for their efforts.”

Interestingly enough, swimming wasn’t the first love of the national squad manager.

“My background is in martial arts, karate,” he said. Mr Morales, a black belt, was Pro-Am Karate League of Trinidad and Tobago Grand Champion for two events. He was steered into swimming by his four children.

“I understood the benefits of swimming from young. Swimming is the only complete sport through which you work your entire body,” he said.

Mr. Morales became a member of his children’s swim club (Sting Ray) and its eventual president. Under his leadership the club, based at the St Michael’s Fitness Complex in San Fernando, took “Swim Club of the Year” awards in 2007 and 2008. In 2008 he was the manager of the victorious Caribbean Island Swimming Championship (CISC) team.

So why does he do it? A family, a busy career – why take on such a challenging and time-consuming extracurricular activity?

“At Carifta I saw young people push so hard that you would have to help them out of the pool. And then they would go back in and do it again. Giving young people a platform to do their best is incredibly rewarding,” he said. “That passion drives you – passion and the support of my wife,Glenda Morales. She is also deeply involved in the sport.”

Mr. Morales also points to his belief in God, which for him transcends the walls of the church and flows into every arena of life. He regularly leads the squad in prayer before most of the sessions. He also believes that with the proper support swimming can be powerful tool for boosting young lives.

“It can help,” he says. “We need a lot more facilities. More facilities in more areas will give us a chance to pull in young people. Guys like me who enjoy giving young people that platform to excel would have an opportunity to reach “at-risk young people.” It is a demanding sport and you need support – whether from Government NGOs or private sector. I’d also encourage more parents and employers to get involved with the positive development of youth. An investment in a child is an investment that will not go to waste. Taking one child off the street is a major return on investment.”