NJ Walker is Bolt's best friend and manager
Pair bonded over nicknames aged five
They opened the batting for the school cricket team
It was a friendship first formed at the age of five over a nickname.
Ever since then, NJ and VJ have been inseparable, to the extent that friends, family and even the pair themselves call them brothers.
VJ, so called by his mother when the initials popped into her head one day because he didn’t initially like his first name, is also the fastest man in history.
And as Usain Bolt - the eight-time Olympic champion – for one more crack at global gold at the IAAF World Championships in London, NJ – his best friend and manager Nugent ‘NJ’ Walker – will once more proudly watching from the stands.
“We’ve known each other a long time,” Walker tells CNN, his Jamaican drawl accentuating the ‘o’ in long.
“We were five years old and I remember he was taller than everyone else – he was always taller. I was NJ and he was VJ, and that sort of drew us together.”
At Waldensia Primary School, the two friends opened the batting together for the cricket team. “Bolt was the better one and would have been a successful cricketer if it hadn’t been for track and field,” explains Walker.
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One day Bolt would shine with the bat, the next Walker. For the pair, the stand-out match was against Alberto Town Primary School, who set a 120-run total for victory, the batsmen picking off that total and remaining unbeaten at the crease.
In their other sporting passion, football, Bolt started in goal because of his size but quickly moved to the wing, providing the crosses for Walker to score.
‘I was fearful to take the job’
But by the age of 11 or 12, it became clear to friends and families that Bolt’s future lay on the track, with an ability to beat everyone even though cricket and football were his only training.
“I remember thinking how good he could be if he actually did some training,” adds his friend.
Despite a friendship a quarter of a century in the making, the pair are still prone to arguments, although never about anything serious.
“It’s usually about sports, a game of basketball or something,” says Walker. “We’re both passionate people.”
Walker is Bolt’s executive manager, a role he didn’t initially want.
He had trained to become a teacher and had done a litany of jobs while living in the US when Bolt decided he wanted someone he could trust in his entourage.
“He’d just broken the world record in 2009 and he rang up and asked me,” recalls Walker. “And I said ‘no, dude, get someone else who knows what they’re doing.’
“But he said he wanted someone he could trust and that would have his back despite me not being trained for it. I was fearful because of that.”
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Eventually, Walker relented and now describes himself as the buffer between Bolt and the rest of his management around the world, enabling the athlete simply to focus on the job of running fast.
Eight years into that position, Walker says: “It’s really been an honor and a privilege and I feel blessed. In fact, it doesn’t even feel like a job. I don’t feel like I work. I just hang out with my friend every day.”
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A doting godfather
As the championships get closer, with Bolt in action on the first night in the heats of the 100m on Friday and, should everything go to plan, in Saturday’s semifinals and final, the nerves build.
Walker admits to always being nervous but is impressed knowing his athlete and friend is less so.
“This is what he lives for, a packed stadium cheering for him,” he says. “This is what he was born to do.”
Does he not worry about life after athletics with Bolt retiring after London 2017? “No, I don’t worry. He’s done this a long time, 15/16 years and he needs to relax. He can do what he likes, and he’ll be happy.”
A family is in the offing. Walker is himself a parent of a young son, NJ Junior, to whom Bolt is the godfather.
Described as a doting godfather, there was a scare when the child was born early and had to be rushed to theater while Bolt was preparing to run at the World Championships in Beijing in 2015.
“He was facing the biggest race of his career, people were saying he was going to lose to Justin Gatlin,” says Walker, “but he was ringing me five or six times a day. I was like ‘focus on the race’ and he wouldn’t listen.
“So while I’m there for him, he’s there for me and always has been.”
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As an athletics observer, Walker has a clear No. 1 moment on the track with Bolt, namely the first 200m Olympic title.
“That’s my favorite,” he adds. “This was his event, the one he always wanted, the dream, and to do that and break the world record, that was the best. The 100m was just a bonus.”
And as for a best memory of their friendship? “There are just too many, and more to come.”