Canadian sprinter Khamica Bingham found resilience in face of tragedy

Olympian made a promise to herself after witnessing her friend's accidental death

It’s a day that Canadian sprinter Khamica Bingham won’t soon forget.

After an intense week of training in St. Kitts, Bingham and five of her teammates enjoyed the beach, where they used the cold water of the Atlantic Ocean to sooth their sore leg muscles.

Daundre Barnaby, one of Bingham’s best friends, waded into deeper waters than the others.

A strong undercurrent took hold, leaving Barnaby unable to feel the ocean floor under his feet and crying for help. Despite everyone’s best efforts to save him, the current was simply too strong, and Barnaby tragically lost his life.

Not many people were more deeply affected than Khamica Bingham.

“We had a brother and sister type of relationship,” said Bingham, at an Athletics Canada event at Toronto’s City Hall, in June. “We made fun of each other.

“He never stopped joking around. If you were ever down, even if he’d met you for one or two seconds, he would try and find a way to make you laugh.”

Of course my angel, my brother and one of my closest friends and teammate would be the one to want to be different in our photoshoot and wear red! It's just so like you, to do things your own way. This same day, one year ago I bought you a pizza for your birthday and you clowned me because I ate half of it haha oopsi! Also, today, but not only today, everyday I am constantly thinking about our teasing jokes, our brother sister relationship and how you truly impacted my life and you don't even know it. I am grateful everyday for the gift of life, chasing my dreams and never taking for granted the presence of others. I miss you more everyday and Happy Birthday Daundre Barnaby 💕🌹#RIP #FinishLikeBarnaby

A post shared by Khamica Bingham aka “Bings” (@khamicabingham) on

Meeting Bingham, it’s easy to see her getting along well with the man that she describes. She too has an infectious positive energy, smiling and laughing with ease.

On that March 27, 2015, after she lost one of her best friends, Bingham made a vow to herself.

“I made a promise that day that I was going to do everything that he wouldn’t get the opportunity to do.”

Fastest Woman in Canada is not a phrase many people have been able to say about themselves.

But when Bingham ran 11.13 seconds in the 100 metre final at the 2015 Pan American Games, that’s exactly what she could do.

“It was something I dreamed of as a kid,” said Bingham. “There are so many amazing athletes in Canada that it was like ‘Me? I’m the fastest? I’m the best?’

“I can’t explain how good that moment felt.”

Earlier in the year, approximately one month after Barnaby’s death, Bingham anchored Canada’s 4 by 100 metre relay team to a national record time of 42.85 at the 2015 IAAF World Relays. As a result, the women’s relay team qualified for the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio.

Everything seemed to be right on cue for Bingham leading up to Rio.

But her training hit a snag in February 2016, when she tore cartilage in her left knee.

She was only able to resume normal training about a month before the Olympic Selection Trials in July, where the North York native was far from her best.

“I didn’t feel prepared,” said Bingham. “I was out for a long time because of my knee injury. Going to the line and knowing I’m not 100 per cent was a little difficult.”

The heightened expectations certainly didn’t help.

“You’re at the line, and everyone’s like ‘The National Champ!’ They’re blowing it up in your face for you.”

Bingham finished fourth, failing to earn a spot in Rio for the 100-metre sprint.

She was crushed.

But one week before the Olympic Games were slated to begin, Bingham was given another chance.

She was given two opportunities to run an 80-metre time trial in 9.10 seconds. If she could accomplish this feat, she’d be running the 100 metres in Rio.

But the Canadian Olympic Committee had already entered Bingham in the 100 metre event, with a plan to pull her out if she failed at the time-trial.

People back home saw Bingham’s entry, and assumed she was already in.

“The media had blown up that I was already entered,” said Bingham. “In the media world, Khamica Bingham is running the 100 metres. They blew that up, and I felt a lot of pressure in that moment.”

Needing to break a time of 9.10 seconds, Bingham ran 9.20 seconds in her first attempt.

“I was freaking out,” said Bingham. “This is the last opportunity.”

“I really had to compose myself, forget about what happened at nationals, and just focus on the task at hand.”

In her final attempt, Bingham ran 9.10 seconds. If she’d run one-hundredth of a second slower, she’d have to give up her dream. Instead, she would be running for Canada at the Olympics.

“That was literally my dream. I was so happy in that moment.”

The Olympics

As hard as she’d worked just to compete in the 100, it was another Olympic event that would be even more memorable for the former gymnast.

Bingham ran anchor for the Canadian Women’s 4 x 100 metre relay team. Prior to Rio, Canada hadn’t made the Olympic finals at this event in 32 years.

When Phylicia George handed her the baton in the semifinal heat, Bingham was a full five meters behind Chinese runner Liang Xiaojing. It appeared that Canada’s final drought would continue.

But Bingham had other plans.

“I ran the fastest leg that I’ve ever run,” said Bingham. “I was able to catch up the five metres and outdip Team China to make the finals.”

It was a moment that she and her teammates will never forget.

“To celebrate with Team Canada and know we made the finals even though no one predicted us to (make it). It was breathtaking.

“It felt like we won even though we didn’t.”

Even though Team Canada placed a disappointing seventh in the finals, Bingham cherished the opportunity to remind the world that Canada’s got some pretty fast female sprinters too.

“It’s nice to pop in and say, “We’re still here. We’re one of the top in the world.”

Looking forward, Bingham’s already excited for the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo. But she won’t just be happy to be there. She intends to dominate.

“I definitely want to be on the podium in the 100 metres,” said Bingham. “Definitely anchoring the women’s relay on the podium as well.

“Rio was like the warmup. 2020 is all business.”

Over the last couple years, Bingham has continued to deal with her share of injuries. But whenever she feels like giving up, she thinks of her brother.

She thinks of Daundre Barnaby.

“When I want to complain, or I’m a little bit tired, I just think about how he finished strong,” said Bingham.

“He taught me to finish strong, in my races and in the race of life. I want to continue to carry him with me and be able to tell the world about him because he impacted me so much.”