Twenty-four years ago, Deon Hemmings McCatty, etched her name in the annals of track and field history when she became the first Jamaican and Caribbean woman to cop an Olympic Gold Medal, after winning the 400 Metres women’s hurdles final at the 1996 Atlanta Games.
For this and other outstanding feats on the track as well as her overall contribution to the sport’s development, Mrs. Hemmings McCatty will, on National Heroes Day (Monday, October 19), be conferred with the Order of Distinction in the rank of Commander (CD), during the National Honours and Awards ceremony.
The Olympian, who expresses gratitude for the recognition, tells JIS News that she was “a bit surprised” after hearing on Independence Day (August 6) that she was included on this year’s list of honourees.
Mrs. Hemming McCatty’s surprise stemmed from the fact that she was previously recognised by the Government with the National Award of Order of Distinction, Officer Class (OD).
“I’m really thankful and happy that they have selected me as an honouree and [that this recognition is] being upgraded from OD to CD. I’m very thankful for this honour and I’ll cherish it,” she tells JIS News.
Prior to blazing to glory and bringing pride and joy to Jamaica through her performances on the track, the former hurdler said she opted to become an athlete as it provided a potential avenue for persons to gain scholarships to pursue higher education overseas.
Mrs. Hemmings McCatty says she was one of seven individuals awarded track scholarships at the time she was selected, which enabled her to attend Central State University in Ohio in the United States of America (USA).
She notes, however, that she was the only one who persevered and completed her studies.
“That was my ticket to getting a free education and that was one of the reasons I wanted to do track. So, for me, it was a good thing,” she shares.
Reminiscing on her fondest memory while competing, Mrs. Hemmings McCatty readily declares that “winning the gold medal in Atlanta, of course”, stands out, having achieved the feat in a then record 52.82 seconds.
She remains active in sport by assisting in the development of new track talent at the community and pre-high school level in central Jamaica, and providing track and field commentary and analysis.
Additionally, she has been the organiser of the Central Junior Schools Classic Track Meet in Manchester.
Mrs. Hemmings McCatty encourages youngsters to always endeavour to set goals and work hard at achieving them, whatever their undertaking.
“Sometimes it may feel like you cannot make it; but just keep on working hard at it. I wasn’t the… best out of the group [of seven scholarship awardees] and I persevered and made it, because I had a goal. I knew what I wanted to do. I knew what I wanted to achieve. So just work hard at whatever you put your mind to and you will succeed,” she advises.
Mrs. Hemmings McCatty’s other notable achievements on the track include: two Silver Medals at the 2000 Olympics in the 400m Hurdles and 4×400M Women’s Relay.
She also won a Silver Medal in the 1994 Commonwealth Games, Bronze Medal in the 1995 World Athletics Championships, Silver in the 1997 World Athletics Championships, and Bronze in the 1999 World Athletics Championships, all in the 400m hurdles. She retired from competitive sport in 2003.
The Order of Distinction has two ranks: Commander Class (CD) and Officer Class (OD), and bears the motto: ‘Distinction through Service’.
The Honour of the Order may be conferred upon any Jamaican citizen deemed to have rendered outstanding and important service to Jamaica.
It may also be bestowed upon any distinguished citizen of a country other than Jamaica, who will be accorded honorary membership.
This year’s staging of the National Honours and Awards ceremony will take place virtually.
The made-for-television event will be aired on national television and social media platforms beginning at 8:15 a.m., with a floral tribute at National Heroes Park.
The ceremony will be broadcast on CVM Television, Television Jamaica (TVJ) and the Public Broadcasting Corporation of Jamaica (PBCJ).
It can also be viewed on the Jamaica Information Service (JIS) website at www.jis.gov.jm and on the agency’s Facebook page.
The produced package will feature a congratulatory message by Governor-General, His Excellency, the Most Hon. Sir Patrick Allen, and the presentation of awards will be interspersed with performances by well-known Jamaican artistes.
Professor Orlando Patterson, who heads this year’s list of honourees, will deliver remarks on behalf of the awardees.
He will receive the Order of Merit (OM) for distinguished contribution internationally to Academia, West Indian Literature, Sociology, and the Epistemology of Social Culture.
A total of 126 persons, excluding uniformed groups, will be recognized this year.
The National Honours and Awards Act, which was promulgated on July 18, 1969, enables the nation to recognise persons who, by their service and contribution, have made a meaningful and significant impact on national life.
Formal recognition of service to Jamaica and its citizens may be given by the conferment of the Honour of one of the Orders of the six Societies of Honour established under the provisions of the Act, and by the award of the Badge of Honour or the Medal of Honour.
The six Societies of Honour are: The Order of National Hero, the Order of the Nation, the Order of Excellence, the Order of Merit, the Order of Jamaica and the Order of Distinction.