Special Olympics athletes will have all the attention on Cayman’s waters.
The athletes are at the heart of the connection between Special Olympics Cayman Islands, Butterfield Bank and the Cayman Islands Amateur Swimming Association, which is entering its second year.
They will take centre stage this Saturday, 25 May, with the 11th annual Butterfield 800 Metres Swim, one of a series of competitive events the swimming association puts on each year along Seven Mile Beach.
As usual, the Butterfield 800m Swim is a good training opportunity for anyone thinking of participating in Cayman’s biggest race, the Flowers One Mile Sea Swim, scheduled for 15 June.
Last year’s Butterfield race saw SOCI host the first international clinic on open water swimming for Special Olympics athletes. Now, Special Olympics International wants more.
The combination of pool and ocean swimming has attracted nine countries, including the Bahamas, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Mexico, Puerto Rico, the US (via Florida and Virginia), Trinidad and Tobago, Uruguay and Venezuela.
For 2013, the Butterfield 800m Swim will welcome 12 visiting athletes, seven local athletes and a total of 32 people swimming under the Special Olympics banner.
The Cayman athletes are Andrew Smilley, Kanza Bodden, Quinton Ebanks Jr., Hamish Wood and Alec Cox from Cayman Brac, all of whom swam last year. Newcomers this year include Andrew Hayles, Nathan Hayles and Kathryn Kelinworth-Whorms.
Last year, 20 swimmers from four countries competed and a total of 102 people tackled the Butterfield swim. The 2012 race and clinic is seen as the start of a global push to enhance open water swimming for Special Olympians.
Special Olympics clinics will take place this week, using both the Lions Aquatic Centre pool and the Camana Bay pool.
One of the areas the clinics will tackle is Pool Open Water Swim, which is one of the functions used to train athletes to move from pool-restricted lane swimming to open water.
It was Andrew Smilley’s gold at the 2011 Special Olympics World Games in Athens that attracted attention to Cayman’s Special Olympics athletes’ participation in all kinds of swimming, and which eventually led to the clinics.
A side story to this year’s race is Penny McDowall, the Special Olympics Caribbean 2007 Coach of the Year. In 2008, she was one of the 40 exemplary coaches worldwide recognised by SOI. According to SOCI chairwoman Maxine Everson, McDowall made recommendations for open water swimming that are being embraced internationally.
“SOI requested Penny review the Open Water Swim manual and give recommendations, particularly from a Special Olympics perspective, targeting rules and other points for coach and athlete,” Everson said. “The manual was written by SOI Sports Resources team member Steve Munatones and others. Eventually, the finished manual became a resource for the Michael Phelps Foundation, as Phelps is a SOI aquatic ambassador.”
The Butterfield race has sparked discussions between SOCI and Ian Armiger, the outgoing technical director for Cayman Swimming, with both agreeing on the importance of Special Olympics working with and being connected to Cayman’s national swimming association. For 2013, such an agreement is in place.
SOCI will look to build off the momentum from the Butterfield race as its 2013 National Games will be held from 8 to 15 June.
Registration for Saturday’s race is at 3pm, with swimmers launching from Governor’s Beach at 4pm. The top competitors are expected to reach the finish line at Public Beach about 10 minutes later. While swimming association events are open to all and are inclusive events, the cut-off time for registration is 3.45pm, for safety reasons.
While the swimming association is waiving the entry fee for the Special Olympics athletes and is providing separate colour swim caps for the Special Olympics athletes and visiting clinic attendees. Butterfield is providing a team of swimmers and a team of beach marshals for the swim.
Butterfield swim organisers are encouraging residents to walk the beach this Saturday waving flags in support.