Every day on Caymanian TV during the adverts, a segment runs wishing the four local athletes success when they compete in the Special Olympics in China next month.
It will involve two days’ travel to get to Shanghai but the trip will be worth it for the whole delegation because they’ve put so much time and effort into preparing.
There are two swimmers, Waide McLaughlin and Andrew Smilley and two track athletes, Kevin Anglin and Christopher Sampson.
Smilley, 17, lives up to his name. A gentle, friendly kid from West Bay, he lives with foster mother Ann Haven in George Town. To qualify for the Special Olympics, he had to swim under 38 seconds for the 50 metres. ‘Andrew’s done it in 30 seconds,’ beams his proud coach Penny McDowell at the Lions Aquatic Centre. ‘But there are a lot of Jamaicans who are very fast too.
‘Andrew’s all heart. He won a silver medal at 12 when nobody expected him to. He never complains about training, is always ready at 5.45am when I pick him up and he does his eight two hour sessions seriously. All he ever asks for is food!’
Smilley, slightly built looks like he needs a couple of solid meals, yet he eats like a giant, partly because 5,000 calories a day are required – twice the normal average – to maintain his energy levels for training. ‘He worked at the Lone Star as a chef for a while but I told the owner not to employ him because he’d eat him out of house and home,’ jokes McDowell, an American from Missouri who has lived here so long she feels more Caymanian.
She is also Smilley’s teacher at the special needs Lighthouse School in Red Bay. ‘Andrew started swimming at a young age, he’s a real water bug. We take them swimming once a week and he was very good at it from the start. It’s an excellent medium for them to develop.’
Smilley is fast enough to compete in regular tournaments and has even been to the last two Carifta Games. His mental condition is developmental delay. ‘He can’t get from A to B, he drifts over to C first,’ is how McDowell affectionately sums him up. She’s like a coach, mum and big sister rolled into one and often calls him by his surname.
‘He’s learned how to look after himself well and loves traveling. Swimming has also helped him health wise. He used to have asthma but hasn’t seen a doctor for years. He has worked at Red Sail Sports in Seven Mile Beach on the catamarans and sail boats and hopes to work there again when he finishes school.’
The long haul to Shanghai involves a flight to Los Angeles, then to a city in China before boarding a third plane to Shanghai itself. They leave on 26 September.
Smilley says almost in a whisper: ‘I love swimming and train five or six days a week. I’ll be competing in four events; 50m freestyle, 400m free, 200m individual medley and 100m back. My favourite swimmer is Michael Phelps.’
Like Smilley, McLaughlin is high-functioning. He has Attention Deficit Disorder and is otherwise like any normal 14-year-old – only twice the size. Already 6ft tall with size 13 feet that must act like flippers in the water, he has only been swimming seriously for a while and will compete in the 50m free, 100m free and 100m breaststroke.
The oldest of three siblings, he lives in Newlands with his parents and attends George Hicks High School as well as Lighthouse.
‘This is only Waide’s second full year swimming and he’s come on very well,’ says McDowell.
‘He’s big for 14 and because he grew six inches last year is not very well co-ordinated. He’s like a big, overgrown puppy. In Shanghai I want them to get personal bests.’ McDowell certainly knows how to get the best out of them, she was voted Caribbean swimming coach of the year.
McLaughlin used to be round. He says: ‘The best thing about swimming is not being fat anymore’.
He adds: ‘I also like swimming because you meet a lot of new people and it’s helped me get big and strong. I want to help other kids get into swimming too.’ His favourite swimmer is Ian Thorpe who has size 17 feet. No wonder.
Another high functioning Special Olympian is Sampson who like his name suggests is exceptionally strong for a wiry man. Four years ago the sprinter won the 100m and got silver in the 200m at the Special Olympics in Dublin, Ireland. This time he wants the double.
‘I pulled up at the finishing line in the 200m instead of running through it otherwise I would have won,’ he says. With best times of 10.6 seconds in the 100m and 22 in the 200m, he is not scared of the opposition. ‘I hope to get gold. Any medal really. I’ll also try to break a record up there again. In Ireland I ran 11.1secs.’
Sampson, 21, lives in Windsor Park with his mum and has two sisters. He works in the maintenance department at Kirk Freeport.
The only low-functioning athlete is Anglin who is nevertheless a veteran of Special Olympics at 43. This will be his fifth Games. At the last one he won the 100m walk and 400m walk. This time he is running the 100m and also doing shot putt.
His main coach is Lazarus Moraes, a police officer who got into helping special needs athletes after breaking his right hand 10 years ago. ‘As I’m right handed I had to learn how to do everything with my left. It made me more aware of others who need help so that’s how I’m giving back.’
Moraes was an accomplished middle-distance runner himself and puts Anglin through his paces. ‘Kevin is excellent in the way he trains. Very disciplined. He never shirks training and doesn’t take anything lightly.’
Kim Landry, national director of Cayman’s Special Olympics, says: ‘Kevin can certainly put his point across. He speaks his mind and always gives 110 per cent. He understands what he needs to do to win. In Ireland in the speed walking he came third but the first two got disqualified for running, he had the discipline not to.
‘Next year we want to get other special needs kids out. We hope to compete regionally because there are guys who can’t travel as far as China but they deserve a chance to compete in the region.’