The moment a Cayman cricket coach set eyes on six-year-old Tyrell Cuffy at the Owen Roberts International Airport, he said: ‘That boy is destined to be a sprinter.’
And sure enough, 12 years later, he’s been proved right. Cuffy is one of the Caribbean’s fastest teenagers, on the verge of being world class at 18 with Olympic ambitions firmly in his sights. The cricket coach was Andy Myles, there to welcome Tyrell’s dad Theo to Grand Cayman from Trinidad to take up the position of cricket’s technical director. Cuffy is still in the post and Myles his assistant. Little Tyrell, however, has grown into a strapping six-footer, improving virtually every time he runs the 200 metres. ‘I could tell Tyrell was a sprinter even then because he walked on his toes, not the balls of his feet,’ says Myles. ‘He had a very smooth, easy step, sort of glided.’
‘Even at George Town Primary School his teacher, Mrs. Ebanks, spotted his sprinting talent,’ says Theo. ‘He played cricket, captained the Under-15s and went on to play for the U-19s but then athletics took over.’
And how. Cuffy has just completed his first senior season, always a difficult one for aspiring champions used to being top dog as juniors. He fared well too, running fast enough at the Pan Am Junior Games in Sao Paulo to take silver in the 200m that qualified him for the senior tournament in Rio de Janeiro a few days after where he got to the semis. ‘Going to Rio was a great experience where I met professional athletes who gave me good advice,’ Cuffy says. ‘I learned to always stay focused and they told me to do my school work and stay disciplined.’
Cuffy roomed with his Caymanian team mates high jumper Omar Wright and multi-disciplined thrower Michael Letterlough. ‘That was fun too. Omar is more a wise guy, who advised me to leave the girls alone for now and train hard. Michael has more of a business brain and talked about how to make the money.’
All three are the products of an intensive Cayman athletics programme headed by coach Kenrick Williams, who is churning out high quality competitors with production-line precision. ‘Kenrick is the best,’ says Cuffy. ‘I’ve been with him since I was eight and still keep in touch with him now I’m at college. He believes that if he can get you to the level of the Cafita Games then you are destined to make it.’
Cuffy’s closest sprinting pal is Kemar Hyman, a 17-year-old Caymanian who is also emerging as one to watch. ‘I also like training with Stephon Johnson. He’s the perfect role model. He sits you down and gives good advice. The twins Carl and Carlos Morgan (Caymanian athletes studying in American colleges) have just emailed me to say they’re training hard and coming after me in the 200m next year, so watch out. I’m looking forward to it. I love the competition.’
Established Caymanian athletes Kareem Streete-Thompson and Cydonie Mothersill are also great sources of inspiration for Cuffy.
A business administration student at King College in Bristol, Tennessee, Cuffy enjoys the small campus atmosphere and competing in the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics league. Offers have come to move to larger colleges where he can run in more competitive Division One meets. But he’s happy with the parochial life there for now.
‘I’m settled there with my coaches Johnny Bomar and Tom Murrell who are trying to improve my endurance by running occasional 400m relay. Studying always takes precedence though. Classes in the morning, I train at 3pm then back to my books in the evening.’
He adds with a big smile: ‘I’m not much of a party guy,’ but does admit to having ‘a couple of girlfriends’.
With a degree firmly on his resume in three years’ time, Cuffy is coming back to Cayman with the intention of being a full-time sprinter. ‘My ultimate dream is the Olympics. I came this close to qualify for Beijing next year in the 200m with a time of 20.83 seconds when the qualifier is 20.75 so I hope to get that time next year.’
By then he’ll be bigger, stronger and better equipped for the rigours of the event. His size and shape lends itself more to the longer sprint than the 100m. ‘The way I run, the strides, I’m told I don’t have the ‘quick twitch’ action you need to be really good at 100m, but I am improving.’ He’s still run a respectable 10.39secs.
Cuffy wants to emulate Jamaica’s world-record holder Asafa Powell. ‘That guy is unbelievable. He’s my idol. I’ll be rooting for him at the World Championships in two weeks’ time. I’ve met him in Jamaica and shook his hands. Nice guy.’
Cuffy hopes to compete in Beijing for the experience with a goal of reigning supreme at the London Olympics in 2012. ‘I’ve only passed through London as a sprinter but I’d love to visit there. Dad talks about it all the time.’
Tyrell believes he can reach Olympic medal status without illegal drugs. ‘I haven’t been offered any drugs and definitely wouldn’t take them anyway to be the best. I’d say about 80 per cent of athletes are clean. I run for the love of it, the money’s just a bonus. I could never take them because if you get caught you get a bad name and a bad rep. When Justin Gatlin got caught I threw all his images away. At least I know Asafa is clean.’
A wholesome family lifestyle is something he enjoys with his dad, mum, Sandra and sister Trisha, 20. They live in Newlands and still take family breaks together. ‘I was in Cayman Brac with my family last week and had so much conch. Mum wants me to take some back to college and freeze it. There’s no need to go that far!
‘We’re very close. I talk to dad every day from college and mum is always encouraging me and keeping me motivated.
‘My first month at college was tough. I was very homesick so when I came home for a week’s spring break it was great to go out with Trisha. We had a blast.’
As Theo was an outstanding cricketer, Tyrell obviously inherited his sporting genes. ‘Dad told me he used to run when he was younger, I can’t believe that.’
Bristling with pride, Theo says: ‘Tyrell knows how I feel about smoking and drugs and thankfully he doesn’t indulge. He gets a high from music. He doesn’t really love fast food, more his mother’s cooking.
‘He’s recording excellent times for an 18-year-old and will be maturing in the next few years. I have high hopes for him. He’s set his goals, let’s see how he works towards it. Only the almighty determines that. He has a good coach in Tom Murrell who is like a father figure. Tyrell is a good product of Cayman and I hope he can be a lesson for all youngsters to show what can happen if you work hard. I want him to shoot for the stars but keep his feet firmly on the ground.’