Craig Tomlinson got off the plane in Miami, FL, and was overwhelmed by the crowded airport. He had just flown from Jamaica and was headed to Ohio on a track and field scholarship to attend Central State University. From an early age, he was a gifted athlete and had a love for sports.
Craig was born in Kingston, Jamaica. Growing up, he developed his athletic skills in the streets and schools' playground playing soccer and cricket, and running track barefooted.
His mother had a great impact on him and his siblings. On Saturdays, she made sure her children did their school work to prepare for success. The house's main door was used for a chalkboard covered with multiplication table and problems to solve.
To afford the best education for her children, she'd sell her chickens' eggs, or sell hot food and pastries at the farmers market on Saturdays.
His mother was also very religious and would make Craig and his siblings go to Sunday School every Sunday.
When Craig was in middle school, his family moved to the opposite end of the island to live closer to his grandparents. Craig cherishes the times he spent with his grandfather who was a farmer.
At age 12, Craig passed the National High School Placement Exam and had to move three hours away from his family to attend high school and live in a dormitory for male students.
“It was hard because it was the first time being away from my family,” he said, “but I was happy because it was an opportunity to get the freedom to play soccer.”
Craig started gaining recognition for his athletic abilities. The local town in which his school was located was deeply invested in its school’s sports (especially soccer matches). Some 3,000 people would attend these high school soccer matches.
Craig was also a track star in high school. One of his most memorable experiences was in the championships, where he raced in the national stadium in front of more than 30,000 people. This is a big event in which American collegiate track coaches come to watch for recruiting.
After graduating high school, Craig won a scholarship to run track at Central State University. It was a great moment for him, but also a very challenging one as well. He had to move abroad and be away from the comfort of his family and friends, and would not play his first loved sport. But he wanted to follow his dreams and was determined to work hard to make the most of the opportunity to be the first in his family to graduate from a 4-year college.
The transition from the warm and sunny weather in Jamaica to the cold weather in Ohio was a challenge. Eventually, he survived the cold weather wearing plenty of layers to this day.
“I told my mom that I wanted to come back home because it was so cold,” Craig remembers.
Craig’s love for soccer endured, however, and he decided to find a way to reconnect with his passion. He then got an offer from Fresno State University’s Division I soccer program. This part of Craig’s life was not always easy. He endured bigotry from teammates and others using racial slurs and telling him to go back on the boat to his country.
Nevertheless, Craig took full advantage of his opportunity and after his final soccer season and graduation from The Ohio State University declared for the MLS draft. He spent some time in a minor league and eventually signed with the Seattle Sounders. He played in Seattle for nine years, and during this time he played for the Jamaican National Team as well.
His family still lives in Jamaica, and he retains a strong connection with his mentors and friends. Recently, Craig brought his mom to visit Seattle, where she watched him play in a men's soccer tournament.
“It was an incredible memory to have my mom there because this was her first time watching me play soccer,” Craig said.
Currently, Craig coaches and is a middle school coordinator at Seattle Academy. He gives back to the community and spends significant time with the kids he mentors.
“I’m thankful for my life and happy to see how my journey has taken me this far,” Craig says. “Having a strong work ethic, love for what you do, and respect for people will get you very far.”