If we build it, they will come

For years the need for an
Olympic-size 50-metre pool has been a major issue in Cayman’s sporting circles.
The elite swimmers are among Cayman’s most successful in any sport despite only
having access to the 25m Lions Aquatic Centre.

The Cayman Islands Amateur Swimming
Association’s board feels the time is right to encourage the government to make
a commitment to help with the millions of dollars it will cost to build. From
the days when swimming really rose to international levels after the arrival of
coach Dave Kelsheimer in the mid-’90s, Cayman has produced Olympians in the
Fraser brothers, Shaune and Brett; Heather Roffey, and Andrew Mackay. The
Frasers have gone on to further heights and are currently aiming at the London
2012 Games.

Successive governments have always
believed that they shouldn’t have to pay for it all, and the private sector
should chip in — about half the cost. The UDP administration in 2003 agreed to
pay half, but it just didn’t come to pass before Hurricane Ivan the following
year, at which point priorities rightfully changed. Later, the then PPM
government also agreed to pay half, but then the global financial crisis

Despite these setbacks, CIASA has
never lost sight of the goal. Under the direction of new president Mark
Matthews and the 50m Pool project team led by Tom McCallum, their desire to see
this project started is as strong as ever. CIASA, with money they raised
themselves added to a prior government grant, not only have the plans but also
planning permission. It is now simply a matter of funding to make it go, which,
in the present economic downturn is a struggle for both the government and the
private sector to justify. However, project leader McCallum believes debate
should continue and the issue should be kept in the public’s consciousness. He
sees an Olympic pool as a remarkable community asset.

“I’d love to start this today,”
says McCallum. “We’ve done a lot of the groundwork, the plans, and have
everything ready to go. Many local schools will be within 15 minutes’ driving
distance from here.

“If we have this pool, although it
is not just about the elite programme, how many more potential Shaune Frasers
would we have from the increased number of children with access to the
programme? It’s the sort of thing they would have whilst growing up, and some
would find they have an aptitude for it on a competitive level.”

He’s right. Even now at the
8-9-year-old level, the swim programme is phenomenal, but there are so many in
such a tight space that it’s like a fish farm with all the thrashing arms and
legs. Many of Cayman’s swimmers today are inspired by Cayman’s Olympians, but
it is as difficult as when those pioneers participated in the 2004 Olympics.

The new president of the swimming
association is Mark Matthews and the public relations officer is Maria Butler.
Coach Dominic Ross heads an excellent swim programme.

Although swimming levels have
risen, there are many other sports and recreational pursuits that are easier
and take less dedication than swimming, which, after all, is only lucrative for
world-record beaters like Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte. Shaune Fraser says:
“Although it would have contributed to less overseas swim meet travel, an Olympic-size
pool 10 years ago would have provided a once in a lifetime opportunity for my
brother and I to compete against the other countries on our home soil. That opportunity
would have provided great honour and excitement, not only to us, but also to the
entire country and could have tremendously impacted the growth of the sport.”

“You have to be pretty darned
dedicated to make the commitment, which is why we have quite a high attrition
rate,” says McCallum. “Many in the Cayman public have, I think, the perception
that building a 50-metre pool is an exceedingly high amount of money to invest,
but it boils down again to ‘waterproofing’ Cayman’s kids, and a big part of the
cost involves extensive changing room facilities to accommodate the high volume
of schoolchildren that could then use the programme. It would also be nice to
have a facility that the public can use. People like to measure themselves.
Runners like to have GPS watches, people like to know how fast they go. They
like to track themselves. A 50-metre pool lets them track their distance swum
in a way that sea swimming does not.

“For a country at this economic
development to not have an asset like this is a glaring omission as far as I’m
concerned. Every professional athlete who comes here raves about Cayman.”

The sports tourism aspect cannot be
ignored either. There are only a handful of Olympic-size pools that host
CARIFTA around the Caribbean every Easter, and adding this facility would bring
this to Cayman as frequently as we wish to host it. That alone is a money
spinner with around 800 people visiting.

In addition, with about 300
collegiate swimming programmes in the US, usage would never be a problem, and
this would be another revenue source. According to NCAA rules, each programme
is allowed one overseas trip every four years. Cayman is ideal for a winter
training trip. In the 10 years or so Kelsheimer was head coach, he brought in
some 30 Olympic medallists, who came here repeatedly for warm weather training.

The swimming association is widely
regarded as one of the best-run sports organisations on the island. The fact
that their volunteers have driven this project to the point where it is ready
to go is evidence of this, and they will ensure that every dollar the government
invests is maximised. As one example, the project pool selected is designed to
last around 25 years without needing major refurbishment.

Like the line in Field of Dreams,
CIASA fervently believes in the mantra: “If we build it, they will come.”