Streeter’s strong Cayman link

Pirates Week marked a festive time that saw Cayman’s national pride on display.

The country proudly showcased its history and heritage and the sports world made a presence with a number of events.

Lost in all of that was the return of Cayman’s world-famous free diver Tanya Streeter to these shores.

Streeter, 36, was here on a seven day sojourn in Grand Cayman. While here Streeter took part in a number of photoshoots and interviews.

Her main focus was doing the cover story (tentatively titled ‘Cayman’s Mermaid’) for Destination Cayman, a local tourism publication.

Most might remember Streeter as the woman who put the sport of free diving on the map. Streeter burst onto the scene in 1998 and 1999 breaking international free diving records.

She would prove be a force on the scene for the next seven years until retiring from competitive free diving in 2006.

She is renowned for her ability to dive as deep as 525 feet into ocean water and she can hold her breath for some six minutes and 30 seconds.

Yet the one thing that defines her is her Caymanian connection, which has remained strong over the years.

Most of Cayman’s older generation will remember Streeter as the girl who always walked barefoot with a patty in her hand.

Streeter was born and raised in Grand Cayman. The daughter of Jim (a dive industry pioneer) and Sandra Dailey, Streeter moved around a couple of places on the eastern side of the island before settling down in South Sound.

‘Our first home was in Prospect Park,’ Streeter said. ‘Then we moved to George Town and stayed there until I was eight. Then there was a stop in Pedro before going to South Sound.

‘John Bodden Bay on Old Prospect Road was our first stop from when I was nine to 16 years-old. From there we moved near to the South Sound Rugby Club and that has been home ever since.’

As Streeter recalls much of her childhood was one of innocence and tranquillity.

‘It was safer in every sense of the word. There was not so much traffic and people could walk around barefoot all the time.

‘People were more accepting of who they were. We as a country weren’t trying to be Miami or South Florida and people were fine with that.

‘In my childhood there were just 11,000 people on Grand Cayman. Everything was at a slower pace and you literally knew everyone else.

‘I remember as a teenager, while running to stay fit, people would stop and ask me for a ride because they would wonder where I was running to or who I was running from.’

Much of Streeter’s childhood memories involved her siblings Julie Dailey, Barbie Chivers (nee Dailey) and Tim Dailey.

Tim is now 38 and married to wife Stephanie, 35. The couple has twins in Alex and Sarah, both of whom are 31 months old.

The devout family man talked about some of the things that stood out in his youth with Tanya.

‘We were fairly close growing up – Cayman was a small community and I try to think it is still a small and close community. We shared a lot of aspects of our lives and spent a lot of time together.

‘We often went out swimming, diving and snorkeling together, but there was one particular day I remember off Eden Rock where we took turns diving for sand.

‘It was over the small wall there and it became clear that Tanya could easily reach the sand where my mother and I were struggling to get anywhere close!’

For Tanya her memories with her siblings were equally fun.

‘As teenagers we couldn’t get away with anything,’ Streeter said. ‘Then again we would hitch rides and be kids running wild at the old Holiday Inn.

‘I was in the sea all the time and grew up on the beach. My father had a dive shop on an area of Seven Mile Beach called Galleon Beach and we would always be around the hotel or with him on his ferry when he shuttled people around.’

Unlike most adolescents at that time her school life would be spent mostly at boarding school in the UK.

That experience would lead to Streeter meeting her husband and eventually forming her own life.

‘I attended Catholic and Prep school for awhile in Cayman before heading off for boarding school in England. I was there from the age of nine straight up to university.

‘I met my husband Paul there and I’d say I left home for good at 20. We would be engaged when I was 21 and married by time I was 22.

‘Most people don’t know but I have a degree in public administration and French from university. With that I got a job working in London for eight months with Anchor Asset Management.’

Eventually though Streeter could not stay away from her childhood home and soon moved.

‘I would come back to visit Cayman three or four times a year until I finally moved back in 1995,’ Streeter said.

‘The funny story behind us coming to Cayman was we got tired of working in London with the rain and dreary weather.

‘One day I said to my husband we could be living in sunny Cayman right now. He didn’t hesitate in saying ‘we should go to Cayman then’ and that’s what we did.’

The Streeters would stay in Cayman for five years with Tanya taking on a position with the governor’s office.

‘We were here up until about 2000. I spent my time working as the social secretary for the governor. Basically I organized activities at the governor’s house and his social engagements and trips.

‘The governor at the time was John Owen and we remain very much in touch. We’ve seen each other many times in the UK actually.’

In the midst of the job Streeter found time to maintain her love for the sea. Her familiarity with the water would soon lead her to take up free diving at age 25.

‘That’s when I burst on the scene breaking records,’ Streeter said. ‘From there the rest, as they say, is history.’

After that the Streeters moved to Austin, Texas where they now reside. They now have a 14 month-old daughter Tilly.

Over the years they have gone on to pursue many interests.

Paul would become a construction manager and operate in the area under the name of Camelot Custom Homes Inc.

Tanya helped out at the business for awhile before taking on a role in television. From 2004 she has been the host of BBC wildlife documentaries.

She even found time to become an environmental activist for wildlife group Ocean Protection.

Lately her focus has turned to ice diving. Last month Streeter travelled to Antarctica as a member of a Smithsonian Institute ice diving team testing Scuba gear in the Ross Sea.

Streeter has not forgotten about Cayman as evidenced by her recent trips. In fact this month’s visit was her third this year.

‘I was here in January and February for a wedding and a baby shower. I try to come back two to three times a year and be here as much as possible.’

Streeter is quick to point out Cayman is as much a part of her as she is a part of its identity.

‘My parents have been here since 1966 and my memories are here. I have a Cayman passport, was born and raised here and in my mind I’ll always be the little girl running around barefoot with patty stuck in between my teeth.

‘The hardest thing about not living here is I can’t be as involved or have as big a voice as I would want. I wish I could have more of a say in the direction of the country but when you live somewhere else it’s hard.’

In fact she has a strong feeling on the current state and the future of Cayman.

‘My roots are here and Cayman hasn’t lost its shine to me. You wouldn’t want Cayman to stay the same because of the limitations. Cayman has to keep up so that people can remain prosperous.

‘I get very emotional about it and I wish it stayed the same way it was for my daughter. To me enough doesn’t change from the patties to the places.

‘I feel strongly about Cayman retaining its charm. I like to think my child can come back and make an impact on Cayman society some day.’