By BRENT STUBBS
Senior Sports Reporter
ALBERT ‘Bert’ Bell, father and coach of two of the country’s most talented and versatile athletes, David and Andrew Bell, passed away on Saturday at his home in Grand Bahama.
Bell, a renowned coach and administrator in swimming, cycling, triathlon and rugby, was 75. He suffered from an illness with a series of complications from his prostate and kidney.
His family and friends were preparing to launch a medical fund to assist him with an emergency operation, but that never took place as they were waiting for his exams to determine his exact diagnosis.
David Bell, the oldest son at 45, said from the age of nine, his father got him involved in swimming and throughout his career in just about every sport he participated in, Bert Bell was in his corner as his coach.
“He’s put many world class athletes on the scene. He’s helped a lot of kids, turning them into Olympians, collegiate athletes, CARIFTA medallists and national champions, especially in cycling with me and Keith Major, who was a close friend,” David said.
“I know he coached guys like McArthur Rigby in track, but I was pretty much the only one he spent a lot of time with in track during my era and after that.
“His incredible consistency with just being there and being stern and having a vision for developing athletes, who had a threshold for pain and an intense training.”
As an athlete, David Bell said if his father didn’t put him through an intense routine in training, he wasn’t training because he passed that mentality to all of his athletes.
“I was willing to die to win and that came from him,” said David, who has represented the Bahamas in swimming and track and field at the CARIFTA Games and the Junior Central American and Caribbean Games before he became the first Bahamian to qualify to compete in triathlon at the Pan American Games in Winnipeg, Canada in 1999 and the Commonwealth Games in Manchester, England in 2002, “If you didn’t throw up (vomit), maybe you weren’t pushing yourself hard enough. He left you in pain. He had a high hold for pain, that was what he instilled in everybody he coached. That was my last memory of him in sport.”
David Bell, however, said his father was also keen on his athletes achieving a high standard in their academics and he was thrilled when he completed high school at Eight Mile Rock and went on to excel at Penn State.
Andrew Bell, the younger brother, followed David competing since he was 3-4 years old and was his coach aswell until he went off to Lindenwood University after he graduated from Bishop Michael Elden in 2001.
“It was brutal. He basically pushed you as hard as he could. He made you break boundaries in your mind before your body actually wanted to give up,” Andrew Bell said. “He kind of taught me and other athletes how to get pass that barrier.”
Andrew Bell, who specialised in the freestyle events in swimming, came close to making the team for the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens, Greece, but he fell short. He did the CARIFTA Swimming and CCCAN Championships.
“There was nothing like a coach-father-son relationship in sports,” said Andrew Bell, now 36 and married to Vanessa Knowles and also the father of two children.
“David was my main competition and my goal at first was to be like him and then to beat him. So he pushed me. I just think it’s going to be hard to replace him as a father and a coach. People like him don’t come around every generation.”
David Bell, who is married to Shanika Green and the father of two children as well, competed in freestyle and individual events in swimming. He was also a middle distance runner and a cyclist, who combined those skills to compete in triathlon.
Bell is also survived by a daughter, Trudi Bell, who is 47, but she wasn’t as actively involved as an athlete as her brothers.
Having known Bert Bell for just about all of his life, Dorian Roach said he felt as if he was a member of the family too.
“I’ve known him since for about 35, almost 40 years now, mostly through swimming, competing in his club and he coached me a couple of times on the national team. I knew him in rugby and of course in triathlon where he formed the original draft and the constitution that we used to form the association,” said Roach, now the president of the Bahamas Triathlon Association.
“Every time I saw him at nationals at the pool, at the rugby pitch and the Conchman, which he organised for many years, I know how much he has given to our community, so he will definitely be missed for sure.”
Roach said Bell developed two outstanding young men into great Bahamian athletes in quite a number of sports, leaving behind a legacy that will be hard to match.