Smilley attracts a special event

To be a champion open water swimmer takes extraordinary dedication – Andrew Smilley has proven that. The fact that he’s a Special Olympics athlete further emphasizes his brilliance.

Smilley

Smilley is improving all the time. Photo: Ron Shillingford

Smilley is one of Cayman’s great swimming success stories and the 19-year-old youngster continues to impress every time he gets into the water.

His latest achievement was placing 107th overall out of a field of 800 swimmers in the RCP Tiburon Mile Swim in San Francisco’s Bay’s Raccoon Strait last month.

He also placed third in the 19-29 age group in the non-wetsuit division in what was his first cold-water experience.

That achievement has resonated around the world’s open water swimming community and now Smilley is on the short list for an online award.

Minister of Sport Mark Scotland is not given to throw praise around but he did issue a press release stating: ‘Andrew is an exceptional athlete and proves that where there is a will, there are no boundaries.

‘This athlete’s hard work, dedication and perseverance have deservedly earned him my respect, and I applaud him for being a positive role model for our young people.

‘I am therefore thrilled that Andrew’s stellar performance has received international recognition. His performance has been nominated as one of the greatest open water swims of the year. And I encourage all to visit http://www.thewaterisopen.com/polls/worlds_great_open_water_swims_of_2009 and show your support for this outstanding Cayman athlete.’

The water was only 62 degrees Fahrenheit in San Francisco, considerably colder than what he is used to. Many seasoned swimmers wore wet suits but Smilley toughed it out without one.

His coach Penny McDowall said he was more concerned with the sea lions than the freezing water.

‘Andrew’s seen sharks before and was used to them but sea lions were a totally different thing,’ she said. ‘He kept asking me so many questions, like if they bite or not.

‘Despite the cold he did a fantastic time of around 31 minutes. The organizers thought he would take much longer and when I said I was going to meet him at the finish, they said I was going too early, but I was right.

‘He did come out miserable because of the cold and said that he would never do it again, but I am so proud of him. The organizers want him to come back but he won’t.’

McDowall expects him to finish third in the online poll. ‘To get the sort of numbers he’s achieving shows the level of support he is attracting, which is wonderful.’

Smilley is becoming an ambassador for Cayman and the latest upshot is that the Special Olympics committee was looking for a venue for an open water swim as a warm up for the World Games in 2011.

They were considering San Francisco but through Smilley’s performance and a bit of persuasion by McDowall, it will be held in April next year in Cayman. The warm water and glorious Seven Mile Beach beat the opposition hands down.

At least 25 Special Olympics athletes will compete and local and international swimmers will be included. In these recession hit times, it’s a lovely fillip for sports tourism and raises Cayman’s already considerable open water profile a notch or two as well.

‘We’re making history,’ added McDowall. ‘And all that’s through Andrew.’

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