Cayman’s sports scene has changed for the better in the four years since Hurricane Ivan struck.
Not fast enough for some people but consensus is that but for one man’s passion to resurrect sports facilities here, Cayman sports lovers would still be in the wilderness.
That’s why one of the most respected politicians in the Cayman Islands is Alden McNee McLaughlin, the Honourable Minister of Sport and Education.
He was born in September 1961, brought up in George Town by a father from East End and mother, Althea, from Bodden Town and he still has a close connection with those two districts. His father, McNee had a variety of jobs including teaching, seaman and health officer.
‘I always tell people I’m a George Towner of Bodden Town and East End extraction,’ laughs McLaughlin.
He attended Cayman Prep and then the high school. After A levels, in 1981, he went to work in Government as an assistant labour officer. Then he went to the courts as a deputy clerk. He developed an interest in law and got pushed by the Clerk of the Court, Ena Allen who was a former High Court judge in Jamaica.
‘She was like a mother to me. Then I was a young man of 21. I did my work but my interests then were not in pursuit of an education I was the playboy, out every night, fast cars, girls… the stuff of which young men like to pursue.’ To prove the point, McLaughlin pulls out a picture of himself, circa 1982, leaning against a brand new, white Stingray Corvette.
A combination of Allen and the then director of legal studies, Peter Rowe, kept pushing McLaughlin to go to law school. He studied here and completed a short stint at the University of Liverpool in England.
‘I was always a big lover of sports but not particularly good at any. I was a decent goalkeeper at school but didn’t play much at senior league level though. We didn’t even last a whole season, despite having a great name, Leeds United.
‘I was a middle distance runner, particularly the four mile distance and 10,000 kilometres. I could run a 26 minute four mile which wasn’t too shabby. Even when I was in law school we had a team called In Laws and did quite a bit of running. I played volleyball as well.’
McLaughlin’s political ambitions were set at a very early age. ‘I come from a very political family on both sides. My mother’s brother, Haig Bodden, he was elected in Bodden Town in 1972. He served until his death in 1995. He lost one election and the guy who took his seat just couldn’t hack it and he quit nine months into his term.
‘My uncle ran the election and got his seat back. My grandfather was involved too and helped put together the constitution in 1959. My father was involved in politics too so I always felt I was destined to be there.’
Things happened for McLaughlin faster than he expected. He ran in George Town in 2000 with Kurt Tibbetts and got in nice and smoothly as the People’s Progressive Movement was the only party then.
‘That was the only smooth bit. It’s been rough all the way after!’ he jokes. ‘I’m actually exactly where I want to be at this point in my life and I’m eternally grateful for this opportunity. I just love what I do.’
He’s been Minister of Sport and Education since the last elections in 2005. ‘Pressure makes diamonds. My real passion is the development of people, particularly young people. To have the opportunity to have education and sports – the first time the two have been under the same minister – has given me the wonderful opportunity for what I’m doing now.
‘When people talk about how much the facilities are going to cost, they should take into account that they include provision for a hurricane shelter, state of the art facilities and world class, learning environments, plus they’ll be available to the general public. It’s because sport is such an important part of a person’s general development why I’m so passionate, I’ve always loved sport.’
McLaughlin still cycles despite a painful accident almost a year ago. He has only been riding a few years. Orrett Connor, the Cabinet Secretary, introduced him to cycling.
‘One of the great things I found with cycling as opposed to running is that it doesn’t put pressure on your body. From running I was developing shin splits and I have a problem with my sciatic nerve, but cycling doesn’t jar you at all. I can cycle consistently without pain. If I run then I can’t do it again for a couple of days. With cycling the muscles hurt but the joints don’t.’
He broke three ribs, punctured his lung, broke his collar bone and had a massive bruise right across his chest ‘It was really bad actually. I never dreamed it could be so bad. My lung collapsed and they had to put in a tube into my side. I was in excrutiating pain for months. I was in a great deal of pain but never worried I was on death’s door.’
He used to ride 100 miles every Sunday morning just with Connor, aka OC. This particular morning he was riding with a group and hit a trench that the water authorities had dug across the road. The rain had made it collapse but the asphalt made it look intact. Despite having a top of the range bike, the same as Lance Armstrong rode, because it was so light – 11lbs – it flipped.
‘I weigh 210lbs and came down across the bike. If I hadn’t had a helmet on I’d be dead. It broke in five places. Quite an experience. I probably got back on the bike before I should have, three months later.’
Roads minister Arden McLean ensured that by the Tuesday that piece of road was fixed. McLaughlin quickly got over the mental anguish of that ordeal. ‘If you sit around and ponder all the things that can go wrong, you’ll never do anything. Life is to be lived. I seize it with both hands. If that’s your fate to finish you time, so be it.’
In the meantime, McLaughlin, 46, will carry on in office as long as he can. He is married to Kim and they have two sons, Caelan and Daegan. ‘I really want to continue serving my people for another few terms. I really don’t want to continue in office as an old man but these are the best years of my life and I’m doing exactly what I want to do.’
McLaughlin has been praised for ensuring that the Truman Bodden complex re-opens in time for this Sunday’s World Cup qualifier against Bermuda and the helping to fund women’s football on the island. The track is almost finished as well. If re-elected, he also hopes to build a new cricket stadium in George Town.
‘I believe I can continue to do a really good job for Cayman, particularly for its young people and I’d love to have that opportunity for another couple of terms.’