From Windscreen Washing to the Commonwealth Games: Meet 48-year-old Jamaican Wrestler
At 11, Kevin Wallen was a wastrel, a penniless “squeegee boy” who stopped motorists on Jamaican streets for unsolicited washes of their windscreens. He begged for money, he sold newspapers, sometimes even he stole.
At 48, he became the toast of Commonwealth Games wrestling, a man enjoying the singular distinction of being both the head of his sport’s national federation and an age-defying athlete in his own right. “Kevin’s 10 years older than I am,” the arena announcer told an enraptured Gold Coast crowd. “And he’s in much better shape.”
Wrestling has been Wallen’s passport out of penury. When he arrived in Canada in his mid-teens to rejoin his mother, who had herself forsaken Jamaica in search of a better life, he was not just impoverished but illiterate.
“I just didn’t know how to adapt,” he explains. “I went into a classroom where the teacher would say, ‘Everyone’s going to read a paragraph. People would laugh. Instead of allowing myself to be embarrassed all the time, I was a bad kid. I sank into a lot of problems just so they kicked me out of class and I didn’t have to go through the shame.”
Having tried out for almost every sport and been cut from every roster, Wallen felt consumed by bleakness. “I was 20 and depressed – there seemed to be no way out,” he recalls. “My school grades weren’t impressive and the only jobs I could get were in a warehouse or washing dishes. I decided I didn’t want to do that any longer.”