Middle child syndrome is often blamed for underachieving by some adults who can’t think of anything better as an excuse.
Thankfully, that isn’t the case in Olympic swimmer Heather Roffey.
She is Cayman’s most accomplished female swimmer, having represented the island at all the major championships including the last Olympics, three years ago in Athens.
The 20-year-old’s last big meet gave her a four medal haul of a gold, two silvers and a bronze at the Island Games in Rhodes, Greece last month.
A veteran despite her tender years, Roffey hopes to survive the demands on her body for another year before calling it a day at top level. At 21, most sports people are yet to reach their prime. Not so female swimmers whose physiology dictates that their teenage years are their optimum ones. Even male swimmers develop much later.
‘After 20, 21, you can continue but everyone younger is faster,’ she shrugs. She will be 21 on 2 September so presumably the end of her stellar career is almost over.
There doesn’t seem to be much of that steely determination you expect with a world beater, but that is not her nature. So modest is she about her accomplishments that Roffey has to think hard about what events she competed in at the Island Games.
It seems that swimming wasn’t much of an option because all her four other siblings were competing as well at one point.
The family house must have been one big changing room.
There’s an older brother and sister and younger twins. They all dropped off but she kept at it.
‘It’s one of the hardest sports to walk away from,’ she claims. ‘Anyone who has tried to will tell you that.
‘I started at five, or six, like all Caymanian kids who learn to swim at a very young age and just kept at it. My parents (Alan and Annie Mae) didn’t force me to swim but they gave a lot of support in terms of taking us to practice and providing the money to go to meets in places like Jamaica, Canada and Florida.
They never told me that I have to swim, they were just constantly there for me.’
Brought along as a junior by the celebrated swim coach Dave Kelsheimer, Roffey also enjoyed being tutored by present Cayman head coach Dominic Ross.
Her dedication has led to traveling all over the world representing her small island in a big way. ‘This summer alone I’ve been to Greece and Brazil for the Pan Am Games.’
Next year’s Beijing Olympics are her last big target along with compatriots Shaune Fraser and Andrew Mackay.
Roffey’s preparations so far have been hampered by a persistent pain in her left shoulder, which may need surgery. It’s a common problem for swimmers, which she handles well.
‘It comes from the tendons stripping because of the constant movement. I may need surgery on it and will see what the doctor says when I go back to school. You get used to the pain. It always feels tired but sometimes it doesn’t bother me.’
A University of Southern Carolina accountancy student, Roffey may also go into the tourism trade as her minor is Hotel, Restaurant and Tourism Management.
She competed in the 200 metres butterfly and 800m freestyle in Athens and hopes to do the same at the next Olympics. Her best championships to date were the 2005 Island Games when she gleaned four golds, a silver and a bronze from an incredible 12 events. She must have spent more time in the water than out.
After Beijing, Roffey is not sure what direction her life will take. ‘I graduate in May and might stay on to do a masters. As of now my future is totally undecided. If I make it to the Olympics that may be the end of my championship career.’
She’ll be cheering Fraser and Mackay on if they also make it to Beijing. Fraser said in this paper on Friday that nothing short of gold will be good enough.
‘Shaune is doing really well,’ she says. ‘We swim against his school so I see him two or three times a year. He’s at a good school for swimming (University of Florida). I wouldn’t like to predict how well he’ll do, in sports anything can happen.’