While tragic, the death of a Special Olympic athlete was a small part of this year’s Butterfield 800 Metre Sea Swim.
Some 145 swimmers stormed iconic Seven Mile Beach for the race, which served as the last tune-up for Cayman’s biggest race, the Flowers One Mile Sea Swim, on 15 June.
The 11th running of the competition saw Jim Fraser, father of Olympic heroes Shaune and Brett Fraser, as swim director. Fraser would give a welcome and briefing – which for the first time was in both Spanish and English – as the swimmers filed into the water.
The race, which launched from Governor’s Beach and ended at Public Beach, was well attended by local swim clubs and the general public. The names of the top 10 finishers would prove familiar with Alex McCallum taking the top spot overall in 10 minutes and five seconds. Chris Courtis placed second overall in 10.23 and Danielle Booth led the females, ending up sixth spot at 10.53.
Some 23 competitors would be Special Olympics athletes and coaches. Cayman’s own top Special Olympic athlete, Andrew Smilley, came in seventh overall, first in his age group and first among the competing Special Olympics athletes at 10.57.
Adriana Sotela was the first female Special Olympics swimmer home at 14.06. All participating Special Olympics athletes were presented with participation certificates and trophies to commemorate the occasion.
Those positives should outshine the tragic passing of Pablo Jose Perez Iarza, 41, of Uruguay, who died in Cayman’s waters during the race. According to police reports, Iarza was pulled from the water unconscious near Avalon Condominiums, about 25 minutes after the swim began. Emergency personnel transported him to the George Town Hospital, where he was pronounced dead about 30 minutes later.
In addition to competing in the swim, Iarza was here for the second Special Olympics Open Water Swim Clinic with athletes and coaches from Mexico, Costa Rica, Puerto Rico, Uruguay, the Dominican Republic, the Bahamas as well as from Florida and Virginia in the US.
The swim was organised by Butterfield Bank, the Cayman Islands Amateur Swimming Association and Special Olympics Cayman Islands. In a joint statement with Special Olympics International, the group offered condolences to Iarza’s family and friends.
“This is a great loss for the Special Olympics movement and our thoughts and prayers are with his family, his coach, his teammates and all of Special Olympics Uruguay,” the statement read.
Special Olympics Cayman Islands Chairman Nick Freeland thanked medical personnel, including the Red Cross and EMTs, who he said “provided excellent and immediate attention to the swimmer.”
“All appropriate procedures will now be carried out at George Town hospital to determine the precise cause of death, which is so far unknown,” Mr. Freeland said.
The awards ceremony at the race’s conclusion quickly gave way to participants taking part in a prayer. Cayman’s Special Olympics and swimming community will keep Iarza and his family in their thoughts.