Thanks to cricket, 5 years ago, I had the honor and privilege of meeting Owen Graham (OG) as a coach. Like so many others in California, OG became a very dear friend. I am not certain, but I may have been the first woman cricketer he coached in California. He gave me every opportunity to be trained – he coached me one-on-one; he invited me to train with the North West Region (NWR) men’s team; he trained me alongside the youth players of the East Bay Youth Cricket Association (EYCA); and he invited me to coach at EYCA and the California Cricket Academy as his understudy. He’d tell me that someday women’s cricket will make it big in the US and I should be ready to coach.
Then one summer OG fell and injured his back. He took time off from coaching to recover but what he thought would have been a couple of weeks extended to months, until he discovered the problem was not simply an injury due to the fall. The once vibrant and powerful OG made a sudden transformation. It was heart-breaking to see how weak he had become physically. However, he was never weak in spirit or mind for one moment. He said to me once after his diagnosis, “Nadia, I have terminal cancer. I am dying but I can extend my life with healthy eating.” He continued to encourage me to develop my cricket and harness the young female cricketers around me.
I returned from home (T&T) last year with a litre of fresh coconut water for OG. I called him for a couple weeks to deliver the water but didn’t get through until one day I received a call from him, in Jamaica. It was great to know he returned to his home land because I knew he would be happiest there but I did n0t imagine I would not have seen him again.
OG stayed on top of all things cricket. During the USACA National T20 tournament this past April, OG called every day from Jamaica to check on his NWR boys’ performances as he knew I was at the tournament. Other times, we’d call each other into the wee hours of the morning as we followed the West Indies Women’s overseas games. He’d talk about the youth cricketers he helped developed in the Bay Area with great pride. And if you can imagine, in his heavy Jamaican accent, he’d advise me as a batswoman, “Nadia you have to be a match winner, not just a contributor. If you’re not a match winner, then you’re not saying anything. WHAT are you really saying?” And he’d talk about the importance of the stewards of the game in the US to acquire land for cricket facilities.
OG was so happy to be back on land he owned, back home in Jamaica. As he fought the cancer, he started his own youth cricket academy for the young kids in his hometown. I planned on visiting him there this summer to help build cricket-practice nets at his academy. Hopefully, I still can do this, in his honor. He also spoke with so much pride about the crops he planted right outside of his doorstep, for eating and for selling. Once again, he was inviting me to train in Jamaica.
With the outpouring of love and support for OG, those who don’t know him wouldn’t believe how firm he was with all players of all ages. He was quite funny too. When the under-9 boys were failing to catch balls in practice, he’d shout at them and ask if they didn’t yet drink coffee for the morning. He was also very caring. He took care of my bats, insisting that they should always be “good looking” and clean, in addition to, of course, playing well. He’d call me to check up on me – while in the US and in Jamaica – more than I would check on him. At practice, he’d often share his fruits with me.
Even though he didn’t sound well when he spoke from his hospital bed last month, I didn’t imagine I won’t be seeing him again nor did I imagine his time was very near. OG always had a fighting spirit. It was so strong that I believed he would have won – winning in this context meant that he could extend his life to many more years. He was so strong that I didn’t even grasp the stage of his illness last month. He said he was progressing well and regaining his strength and weight. Our conversation was quite normal with what seemed to be a promise of another conversation “tomorrow”. I do wish now that I honored him publicly before he was taken away from us.
OG, the man with a fighting spirit and a gentle soul; I will never hear you call me “Chinee girl” again but you will never be forgotten and you will always be missed. Like every other cricketer you’ve worked with, you’ve touched my life deeply and I am so very thankful to have known you. And to all cricketers out there, I am sure OG would give the same advice that’s applicable to cricket and to life – “…you have to be a match winner, not just a contributor. If you’re not a match winner, then you’re not saying anything. WHAT are you really saying?”
Rest in Perfect Peace, OG.
Nadia T. Gruny