Special Olympians add to swim

The 10th annual Butterfield 800m Open Water Swim was indeed a special success.

Despite a week of heavy rain, the seas calmed down beautifully to allow the Cayman Islands Amateur Swim Association’s organisational team to produce the swim for the third year.

Over 100 swimmers swam in perfect conditions, some in stroke-for-stroke competition the entire way. In the closest finish yet, Alex McCallum ended up a mere hand’s length ahead of Geoff Butler. The next Butler-McCallum racers (Simon and Iain) finished shortly after, with Andrew Smilley rounding out the top five.

Also of note, littlest girls Gabriella Royston, 5, Marisa Poole, 6 and Amber Barnes, 7, showed they have the potential to be like the first female finisher Coral Tomascik, 14, some day.

However, the Special Olympic athletes stole the show, showing tremendous improvements across the board and perhaps even more importantly, having a blast while staying fit and active. They were recognized by their orange caps, which were intentionally different in colour from the standard white caps. There were many strong finishes, helped by little to no current.

Toni Johnson of Special Olympics Cayman Islands states the presence of those athletes finished off what was a solid clinic.

“This clinic’s frame work would now be used by Special Olympics programmes around the world,” Johnson said. “There was good synergy between the Butterfield swim and the workshop as participants got a chance to put into practice what they had learned. This model of “piggybacking” with established swims works very well for small programmes like ours.

“However, some Special Olympics programmes like Curacao, are already using another model where all of the competitors are Special Olympics athletes. SOCI is very pleased to have been able to facilitate this historic workshop and thanks all involved in making it such a huge success – Butterfield, CIASA, Special Olympics International, all the volunteers and coaches and especially the athletes who, as always, inspired with their courage and can-do attitude.”

In all eight Special Olympians took part. Other than Smilley’s fifth place mark, their finishes were as follows: Kadian Ingleton of Jamaica came 53rd, Alec Cox of Cayman Brac was 63rd, Rose Pelskow of Virginia, USA was 67th, Mitchell Lopez of Curacao was 68th, Hamish Wood of Cayman was 82nd, Kanza Bodden of Cayman was 84th and Ross Forde of Barbados was 95th.

Each visitor was accompanied in the water by a local. Walking rather than swimming were Steve Munatones and Kester Edwards, visiting Special Olympics International representatives and leading advocates of open water swimming. Both filmed and snapped photos as they walked for their international library.

Whether five or 60-something years-old, finishing in a time of under 10 or 32 minutes, the tired, happy sea swim crowds are always supportive of each other’s efforts. This crowd had a special warmth, very welcoming to the overseas guests here for the Special Olympics clinic. This event was a wonderful demonstration of Cayman swimming’s experience and expertise, the teamwork and superb open water conditions, sponsor support and a view of the possible future everywhere.

Nick Freeland, Chairman of Special Olympics Cayman Islands, thought the event was “an unqualified success and we greatly appreciate Butterfield partnering with Special Olympics and providing our athletes the opportunity to compete at this level. The Special Olympics athletes and coaches from overseas thoroughly enjoyed themselves.”

Along with the usual land crews, safety boats and kayaks, a new addition to the ‘event crew’ were stand-up paddleboarders Dano and the Waterman, proving to be an extremely valuable addition. Marshalling and monitoring swimmer safety, paddle-boarders add a strength of visibility in a wonderfully low-tech way.

Also helping keep things safe were volunteers or donations from the Red Cross, Red Sail Sports, Subway and Sprint. Special mention goes to Butterfield’s Bill McFarland. A hard-working open water aficionado, he helped set up the course, gave the briefing to the Special Olympians athletes and then swam the half mile to finish first in the over-40 crowd.

Mike McWatt, Butterfield’s Deputy Managing Director, was on hand to support the swim and present the awards afterwards, assisted by lovely Brigette Tomascik. He remarked, “As a community bank, Butterfield is proud to provide its continued support to the amateur swimming association with the sponsorship of our 800m sea swim, this year in particular as it was not only the 10th anniversary of the swim but also because of the participation of the Special Olympic athletes.

“It was very moving to watch the athletes perform in the swim, with all them finishing, and to see the joy and enthusiasm on their faces when they received their participation and age-group awards. The swim association and SOCI are to be congratulated on holding a first-class event.”

Next up on the local swim calendar is the 20th Flowers Sea Swim on 9 June. After a summer break, three meets will take place between September and November: the Fosters Food Fair 800m event is on 15 September, the CUC 800m is on 13 October and the Pirates Week 5K is on 10 November.