Love and sport conquer all

Quick: name the top spots in the world where sports stars make use of competitions in romantic destinations as a surprise cover to ‘pop THE question’?

In November 2003, Tiger Woods had just finished competing in the Presidents Cup being staged in South Africa and with his then girlfriend in the galleries. Tiger had innocently combined a follow-on safari vacation in the country’s Shamwari Game Reserve, and proposed while on a romantic walk at sunset.

Fast forward to this past weekend in the Cayman Islands where Olympic medalist and World Champion Nate Dusing had been invited to compete in the 2004 Inaugural World Class Cayman Splash & Dash. On the Saturday, Nate partnered with US track & field sprinter Allen Johnson and their team triumphed in dramatic fashion and claimed the title of ‘2004 World Beach Sprint Kings’. The best two out of three sea-land relay race pitted Dusing and Johnson against Neil Walker (USA) and Kareem Streete-Thompson (Cayman Islands).

A day after the competition, Dusing spun his own magic and proposed at midnight under the stars on one of the most famous and romantic beaches of the world.

Like Woods, Dusing has competed all over the world and has visited many destinations that could have served as the ultimate backdrop for one of the most important events of his life. He ultimately chose Seven Mile Beach of Grand Cayman for his moment.

Dusing commented, ‘I was fortunate that I had been down to the Cayman Islands a year earlier with Michele (Wickwire) and we immediately recognized that Grand Cayman and Seven Mile Beach are unlike no other vacation places we have visited. The warm weather, tranquil waters, pristine beaches and friendly people put you in such a relaxed and happy state, that I was sure she would say yes.’

Wickwire, Dusing’s new fiancée, added, ‘We had obviously discussed marriage but I had no idea when he might ask me. I was thinking maybe it would occur at the Olympic Games in Athens, or perhaps at Christmas. When Nate received his invitation to the Splash & Dash, and invited me to go along, I just assumed it was another sports weekend in a gorgeous place.’

Even though Grand Cayman had been the unfortunate victim of Hurricane Ivan three months earlier, it didn’t deter Dusing. He noted, ‘Neil, Michele and I were all very concerned when Hurricane Ivan hit the Cayman Islands, as we have many friends there and love the country. When we arrived on this trip, we were amazed at the positive progress of the island’s clean-up efforts. In fact, while at the hotel, along the beach, in George Town and in many parts of the island, it is exactly as we remember it from a year earlier.’ The actual marriage proposal required some dramatic help from longtime friend and fellow Longhorn Aquatics teammate, Neil Walker.

Neil described the set-up, ‘We had finished dinner and had returned to our hotel and while Nate and Michele were getting ready for a midnight stroll, I snuck a blanket and some hurricane candles out onto Seven Mile Beach. I set those down and then nearby wrote the words ‘Will you marry me?’ in the sand and buried the ring next to the words. I actually then hid in the bushes to make sure nothing disturbed the set-up. The great feature of Grand Cayman is that you can always find a safe and secluded spot on the beach free of peddlers or intrusions of any kind, and sure enough all was perfect when they made it to the spot.’

Dusing isn’t the only one to travel to Grand Cayman for romantic moments. Thousands of people have traveled there to either get engaged or married, and even some scuba enthusiasts are married underwater at the islands unparalleled dive sites. In fact, the same weekend Dusing and Wickwire were getting engaged, there was a 250 person wedding going on at the Westin Casuarina Resort. Private charters had flown in all 250 people from New York.

Dusing noted, ‘I’m so fortunate to have the opportunity to propose to Michele in the Caymans. We now have a tremendous memory to build on for the rest of our married life. Now that I’ve been invited to return to defend my Splash & Dash championship, we may have to top that and get married in the Caymans.’

Nate Dusing is a multi-Olympic and World medalist and recently won gold at the 2004 World Short Course (25m) Championships in Indianapolis and has both silver and bronze Olympic medals.

The 2004 Inaugural World Class Cayman Splash & Dash was staged by the Cayman Islands Sports Development Company (CISPODECO) on the pristine Seven Mile Beach in front of the Residences at the Ritz-Carlton Grand Cayman and featured four of the world’s fastest athletes in a made-for-TV relay competition.

The triangle course required the leadoff swimmers to dive from the beach into the crystal clear waters and navigate 50 meters out and then back to the beach for a total of 100 meters. Upon reaching the beach, the swimmers tagged their land-based counterparts who sprinted the remaining 50 meters to the finish.

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