Bernie Bush has devoted his life to the promotion of sports in Cayman so it’s no wonder that he’s the treasurer of the Cayman Islands Olympic Committee and team manager of the very successful women’s Under-17 football side.
He has represented Cayman in a number of sports and feels he knows what direction athletes on the island should go. A straight taker, he is never one to beat around the, eh…Bush, he feels that individual sports where you don’t have to depend on team members, have a better chance in Cayman.
‘If you’re individually talented and disciplined all you need is God, a good coach and parents to work with you. Whereas when you’re in a team sport it’s more difficult. That’s why I think this Under-17 girls programme is kind of special. They all like each other and are prepared to work hard and have great support from parents and CIFA.’
He feels that open water swimming becoming an Olympic event has a lot of potential for Cayman. ‘This is very good for us. We have so much open waters which are fairly safe and can enhance sports tourism. Unlike places like California where they have shark attacks, we don’t have that. Our seas are calm, we don’t have strong currents. God has blessed us with that sort of thing. Still it is not easy. I’ve seen swimmers training and it is hard work and my respect goes out to them.’
The drug menace in Olympic sport is always a consideration. Bush feels it is always a case of policing the offenders. ‘The criminals are always a step ahead. We haven’t had a clean Olympics for at least 20 years but I do feel that the Caribbean region on the whole is very, very clean. We put importance on having a family. It seems that a lot of people from other countries don’t have that problem of thinking that by putting steroids in my body I could have deformed kids or I could die young.
‘Athletes in the Caribbean are generally too scared to take a chance with performance-enhancing drugs. Just getting caught and coming from a small island is very embarrassing. When you come from those big countries, you can get lost when you get caught. But if you’re from Barbados, Jamaica, Trinidad or Cayman Islands and you get caught with drugs, you can’t hide when you return to your country.
‘We must accept that sport is an avenue also to scholarships. We cannot keep on going to the government for scholarships. We should explore all avenues and sport is one of them. I’ve been told this by people overseas. Our advantage is that people are coming from Cayman Islands and not from other small islands or from Africa where when they reach the US and see Burger King or Wendy’s they go crazy. We grew up with that here, so that’s no big thing to us. The only problem with Caymanians is that they have to keep out of the malls, they like shopping too much!
‘I’ve had some fun over the years. When I started playing senior football, I was only 13 and playing with Pearls, a lot of older guys. They had the best sportsmanship you ever would want to learn from. They didn’t even seem to be interested in winning a match. I got to play because Junior Jennings, the captain was teaching me music and I learned my skills ahead of time. He rewarded me with a game. One time our keeper who was about 6ft 4in and our defender who was about 5ft got into a fight with each other. That was something I’ll remember for the rest of my life.
Another memorable – if alarming time – was at the PanAmerican Games in Mexico.
‘I was walking with John Bodden in the village after the opening ceremonies. One of the displays was filled with fruits that were starting to spoil. So John went and started taking some of the fruit off and this guard comes over and puts a gun on him and tells him to leave it alone. And John starts arguing with this guard in English, even though he could speak fluent Spanish, but he wasn’t going to let on.
‘I couldn’t understand Spanish but I could understand a machine gun pointing at him. And John refused to back down. Every way I tried to get out of the way of the line of fire, John would swing the same way. In the end, John just walked away with the fruit which almost threatened an international incident. I could not believe it.’
Bush also remembers fondly the time in Cuba when the other Caribbean countries held a cocktail party in his honour to acknowledge the fact that Cayman Islands had its first Caymanian Olympic Committee president and chef de mission.
‘Another moment I’ll always remember was when Mitchell Smith, a cyclist, and Peter Aldrich, from Barbados had already won the indoor. Aldrich went on the road to help Smith win the 100-mile race and he had a good chance. With one lap of the 20-mile circuit left to go, Mitchell was up with the big boys and they rode him into a wall deliberately. It was a little rider from a small island taking on these riders from big countries who had seven members to a team and it was just Aldrich working for Mitchell.
‘He lost all of his skin. He stripped down naked in the road when the ambulance came. He was in so much pain he probably didn’t realise what he was doing.
‘`Then there was a certain Cayman sailor who was a policeman here, who went to Mexico. And according to the doctor there, that was the first time he had seen an overseas athlete with constipation because normally the food there causes the opposite effect.
Another time with the boxing team in the Bahamas, we had a local boxer beating a Guyanese who threw a lucky punch and beat him on points. He didn’t deserve to win that fight but went on to get the best boxer of the games award. That could have been our fighter. Some beautiful things have happened and sad things but it’s been a progress to see where this little island for its small numbers has come.
‘The good thing we have here is relative safety. We have to work between the business community and government to get the proper facilities, coaches with no egos qualified and a way to get exposure. Regardless of what anyone says, sports should play a very big part of our everyday lives because I have documentation which I carry everywhere I go which proves that exercise is good for the brain. And I also have figures that show, especially for girls, how much better sport is for them.
‘So this should be an integral part of every school programme. In the schools, even at the young ages, whenever there is a programme to be cut to add on something else, it is always physical education. And we have an obesity problem in this country. The government has just done a big survey and one of things it shows is that this country is obese. Instead of them increasing the things that will help the problem, they keep on decreasing them.’