A successful triathlete is one of the most respected people in sport because of the huge demands it takes on time and energy to master the three disciplines of swimming, cycling and swimming. Most triathletes do not peak until their thirties as a result. Yet the Cayman Islands has such a strong triathlon culture that a local teenager is already gleaning props for his exceptional performances.
Alex McCallum is only 17 yet the Cayman Prep and High School pupil came second in the sprint division behind Ray Welds at last month’s Cayman Triathlon. Principally a swimmer, he has had another outstanding year.
McCallum said: “This year I’ve participated for Cayman at CARIFTA in Barbados. Also, I’ve got two second places in sea swims as well as second overall in the Cayman Sprint Triathlon and I represented Cayman in swimming in Toronto a few weeks ago.
“With a strong swimming background, doing nine practices a week and with good endurance with a bike and a good running background, I think I could achieve a lot in triathlon, including hopefully multiple Ironmans in the future.
“I’m applying for a course in accounting and finance to universities in the United Kingdom and hope to go into a career in this field. I’d like to keep up my sporting life beyond university in multiple sports.”
Born into sport – his mother Pat was Cayman’s best woman squash player for years and dad Tom was a all-rounder – Alex has represented Cayman internationally at squash, tennis and swimming. He is also a keen footballer. Swimming tends to become pretty much all consuming once they hit their mid-teens and as he swims 18 hours per week it doesn’t leave time for much else.
Of the male swimmers here, McCallum is second only to his friend Geoff Butler, who this year has always been just ahead of him in the sea swims. McCallum was in the Youth Cup in Toronto and was pleased that his personal best in the 200 metres backstroke now makes him faster than Butler in that event.
McCallum first took an interest in triathlon about four years ago when the family did the Cayman Triathlon. Alex swam, dad Tom whizzed around on the bike and his mother did the run leg.
This is a crucial time for the youngster as he is focused on getting the top grades he needs for his applications to do a Finance related degree in the UK starting next year and continue his swimming. His final CARIFTA is in April. Last week he received a conditional offer from Loughborough University, the top sporting university in England. If he gets the grades and improves his times in swimming just a little, he can get into Loughborough and make the swim squad.
In the long term, McCallum sees a shift to triathlon to take advantage of both his ability in multiple sports and his natural ability to race at a steady and fast pace on longer distances.
Some parents don’t want their kids involved in sports as it will interfere with their studies. McCallum, like many who excel in sports, has shown that sports participation has helped give him even more energy and motivation to study – and the results prove it.
Prohibitive costs are not a problem either. Swimming, squash and football do not require expensive equipment or anything other than nominal costs to participate.
Overseas trips have either been wholly or largely covered by the sports organisations with the athletes given opportunities to raise money to cover any share of the costs themselves. Basically, these are sports that anybody can afford to take part in. All it takes is supportive parents for taxi services and dedication to practice – and McCallum certainly has that.