When it comes to producing world class swimmers, Cayman definitely has a record worth shouting about from the highest diving board.
Its intensive programme has developed some great swimmers in recent years and there are many youngsters inspired by them who soon could become household names too.
Shaune Fraser recently won silver at the Pam Am Games in Brazil, his younger brother Brett is developing all the time and Heather Roffey has the potential to medal in a major tournament.
They have all come through Cayman’s exceptional programme at the Lions Pool in the Truman Bodden Complex. Modest resources, high return.
Much of the credit goes to head coach Dominic Ross who in the two years since his appointment has seen success that such a tiny island should never even dare wish for.
Ross a quiet, unassuming man, learnt his trade from predecessor Dave Kelsheimer who started the whole process in the Nineties. ‘I worked alongside Dave for years and when he moved to Orlando I was pleased to take over,’ Ross says. ‘It’s rewarding to oversee the whole thing and being facility manager. It’s not just about the top swimmers, we have a schools programme, a learn to swim programme and an after-school one for six to 18 year olds.
‘We’ve had some great swimmers over the years and the object is to get them to continue when they go to college and university. Dave helped introduce the program of swimming scholarships. Brett Fraser is going to the University of Florida from September, the same college as Shaune.
‘We’ve got some great kids in the 12 and 13-year-old bracket, such as Lara Butler, Seiji Groome and Joshua Bain. A whole bunch of kids of that age have been coming along in the last year. A lot of the older kids are still competing for Cayman despite being dispersed all over by keeping in contact with their coaches.’
One of those is Andrew Mackay, the 22-year-old who competed in the last Olympics in Athens. He wants to go to Beijing next year – and not just as a tourist. He’s a student at Notre Dame, Illinois and has taken time out to get into prime condition in Australia. His events are backstroke and individual medley.
Roffey, 21, also made the 2004 Olympics, as did Shaune Fraser. She has been hampered by a shoulder injury. Ross is full of admiration for her but fears that she might be lost to the sport. ‘She’s worked really hard over the years and she’s getting ready for her final year of university and knows that unless you’re world class and because there isn’t much money in swimming, you might have to give it all up and get a job.
‘Shaune Fraser has already qualified for the 100 and 200 metres freestyle for the 2008 Olympics and he’s still looking to compete in a couple more events depending on the schedules. I’ve known him since the age of 10. He’s achieved his success because he wanted it more than the others. The effort he puts in is second to none.’
Ross, 32, hopes to see youngsters stay in the sport longer. ‘Swimming takes up a lot of time and effort. It’s difficult to predict if anyone will stay in it. That’s what we try to do. Unless you’re a top swimmer there is little or no money. But there are still university scholarships and some big endorsements to be made.’
Born in Scotland, Ross arrived in Cayman Brac aged eight when his parents, both teachers, got jobs there. They outgrew the island and resettled in Grand Cayman 17 years ago. A talented junior swimmer he taught swimming in London after gaining his degree at Luton University and jumped at the chance to return home in 1997 to be a swimming instructor.
He is pleased that the Cayman government sees fit to invest heavily in the talent nurtured by him and coaching colleagues Paula Swaby and Alex Webb. ‘It’s an exciting time. A new 50m pool project has the backing of the sports minister Alden McLaughlin and that should soon get underway. There are also two 25m pools to be built in West Bay and Frank Sound. This one is overused and crowded so it will be a huge relief when they are built, not just for sporting reasons but to teach life skills. Our swim school programme has always been so popular that its always got a waiting list. Ideally, we’d like every child in primary school before they leave to have learnt to swim. Until we get the new pools that won’t be a reality.
‘In mid-August we’re having a big launch to get kids involved as they start to come back from vacation. It will give them something to do and keep them out of trouble.’