Evelyn Rockett is the quintessential athlete turned administrator. Over the years, her work in sports has laid the foundation for many successes that these islands currently enjoy, including producing several world-class athletes such as Edward Manderson, Kareem Streete-Thompson and Cydonie Mothersill.
Additionally, she was the architect of the Cayman Islands hosting its first ever CARIFTA Games in 1995. Rockett was among the first set of athletes to represent the Cayman Islands at the CARIFITA Games in 1978.
Just being the first physical education teacher on Grand Cayman set her apart. Over the years, she has been an athlete and athletics coach and served as president of the Cayman Islands Athletic Association.
“For these achievements, along with her leadership in sports administration and her ground breaking role in organising major sporting events such as several road races, marathons and the islands’ first CARIFTA Games, CAC Youth Championships and Cross Country, the Department of Sports saw it fit to recognise her efforts,” said Merta Day, Women’s Coordinator in the Department of Sports.
“I believe she has given back to her community and as a coach and mentor, has been instrumental in the lives of some of Cayman’s top runners. As such, we are pleased to select her for Honouring Women Month.”
As chief organiser of the first CARIFTA Games held in the Cayman Islands 17 years ago, Rockett’s name earned its place in the history books. But before organising the games, a track that met international standards had to be built.
“In 1994 I did a proposal to the International Athletic Foundation for funds to help build our first track. We were the first track in our region to be funded. We secured US$60,000 in funding and a further $25,000 was given for the 1995 CARIFTA Games,” Rockett says.
She was perhaps the longest-serving president of the Cayman Islands Amateur Athletic Association, with 17 years at the helm. During her tenure, she organised popular fun runs such at the Cayman Airways 5K and the Holiday Inn 10K. One of her innovative ideas at the time was to include members of the New York Runners Club. She invited Edwin Moses, Bob Beamon, Joe Deloach and Evelyn Ashford to the Cayman Islands, to expose local athletes to top level talent. She coached and helped to develop Street-Thompson, Mothersill and Manderson during his comeback in the late 90s.
In addition to her outstanding career as a sports administrator, Rockett was elected as the first woman on the Central American, Caribbean Athletic Confederation and North America, Central America Confederation. “During my two terms on both regional boards, I was an advocate for more events for women at our regional championships and more opportunities for female coaches,” she recalls.
Last year Rocektt was awarded the Veterans Pin from the International Federation of Athletics Associations.”This award was given because of the work I did on regional athletics boards in the region and in the Cayman Islands. I was the youngest person in the world to ever receive this award,” she says.
Rockett was born on 4 March 1961 in George Town. Her sporting life really began in 1972, when she transferred to Cayman Prep School. “Before that, the only thing I knew about sports was playing rounders, skipping, football and marbles in my neighbourhood after school or on weekends.
“Moving to Cayman Prep School was a major discovery for me. I could run fast!
“My first sports day in 1973 on the grass field next to the Cayman Islands High School (now John Gray) was where my competitive spirit and my hunger for sports were unleashed.
“Representing my house, ‘Young’, was something I did with great pride. I won race after race and it felt great. I ran faster than my legs could manage but the adrenaline was too great. There was no stopping me; I wanted to run.”
Later she moved to the Cayman Islands High School and while there she was introduced to other sports, but “none could compare to running”. It was during high school that she discovered that she wanted to have a career in sports. After being elected house captain for team ‘Wahoo’, she felt it was important to support her team during lunch events, which continued into class time.
“It was an afternoon that I will remember for the rest of my life. I was punished by my English teacher for showing up late to his class. I was told to write a 500 word essay on sports.
“This was an opportunity for me to express in words my passion for something that had a significant impact on my life. My determination, strong will, hard working and the ability to be a team player are all characteristics I developed because of my involvement in sports.”
Then in 1978 she earned a spot on the first Cayman team to participate in the CARIFTA Games.
“I wanted to be a part of that team,” Rockett says. Despite her burning desire, she knew that she was going to have to meet the high standards of her grandmother, the late Orma Barnes, who had to be convinced that her granddaughter was not going to get injured or that her school work would suffer. She did so in part with the assistance of her late grandfather, Charles Barnes Sr.
Rockett recalls that she must have run around Grand Cayman several times with the many 150 metres, 200m and 400m she did, while training with Fred Hanson.
“Training was hard but I stuck with it. The day of the trials came and I would have to run my best to be victorious over the Cayman Brac sprinter, Juliana O’Connor. I fell to my knees and said, ‘Thank you God’ as I finished first in the 100m. “In Jamaica, I ran against Jacklyn Pusey, with whom I remained friends for many years after. Merlene Ottey was in the heat before mine. What an experience!
“It was my first time seeing a rubber track and starting blocks. Losing can teach many lessons and although I was disappointed at that event, I knew that some day I wanted Cayman’s future athletes to have a good running surface. Thus the idea of a track was born.” In 1979 Rockett started her studies as a teacher, after receiving a Government scholarship. She majored in social studies, with a minor in physical education. In 1983, she completed her studies and returned home to teach PE at Cayman Islands Middle School. Within two years she became head of department. In 1990 she returned to her studies to complete a masters degree in sports administration.
Rockett taught PE at George Hicks High School until 2006 when she was promoted to Deputy School Leader of Leading Edge High School. In 2007 she moved to John Gray High School as Deputy Principal.
“Sport is powerful and achieves much when used properly. I recall witnessing the first time East and West Germany participated as one team. Many struggling students rise above the academic challenge because of the discipline learnt from sports.
“The benefits of sports are numerous and when transferred to other aspects of our lives, we are much more balanced and successful. The days of sports being predominately male-oriented are long gone and all females should be encouraged to participate in at least one sport.
“Sports have had a positive impact on my life and I would encourage all parents to be active with their children and make sports a way of life.”