Parents of sporty kids in the east of the Cayman Islands now have a closer option if they want to introduce their little ones to swimming.
Coach Marie Shepheard, who runs the Treasure Island program for babies and toddlers in George Town, started a similar one at the Clifton Hunter High School pool last week.
“They are really lucky to have such a great facility,” Shepheard said. “We had 54 children swimming on the first Saturday, our youngest was Seighla Whittaker, 9 months, who took her first plunge with daddy Marco and loved every minute, whilst our oldest was Julian Menko, who is 14.”
For some parents, it was a steep learning curve as they had never let their children go in the water with a stranger, especially the nervous parents ones, who maybe cannot swim themselves. Others knew exactly what to expect as the children have been swimming with Shepheard at Treasure Island.
Many were delighted not to have to drive all the way to Seven Mile Beach for swimming lessons every Saturday, as they live so close to Clifton Hunter.
“I would like to thank the Department of Education for making this possible, along with Andrew McLaughlin, the facilities manager at Clifton Hunter, and Ralph Birkmyre,” Shepheard said. “Since starting my swim school two years ago, I wanted to make swimming lessons affordable for everyone. We now have over 400 swimmers a week going through four pools, two at Treasure Island, the Lions Pool, and now Clifton Hunter.
“I want to continue growing to give every child on the island the opportunity to love the water,” she said. “My aim next year is to build my own facility.”
Of the many grateful parents watching, Monique McLaughlin was especially pleased to see her daughter Isabelle Grant, 8, getting tuition. They live in nearby North Side.
“When I saw the email about these classes I jumped at the opportunity,” McLaughlin said. “Living all the way up here, it’s very difficult to attend after-school programs in town. We’re really grateful for it.”
McLaughlin did not tell her daughter anything about the swimming program until just before they left. “She was super excited, such a surprise,” she said.
“I brought her for the level three program. Although she can swim, I want Isabelle to learn the proper techniques. She is a little more advanced than I thought she was. Hopefully, she will be ready for the Olympics very soon!
“Most of the parents I’ve spoken to are very grateful. It gives kids in this area an opportunity,” McLaughlin added.
The cost of lessons is $17 per half hour, or $102 for the six-week program. One-hour lessons are $25.
McLaughlin also said she thinks that the cost of building the school is money well spent.
Shepheard employs nine assistant coaches every weekend, all are great swimmers and all have the potential to become full-time coaches.
Her assistant at Clifton Hunter is Joshua McFarlane, 20, who has been with her for over five years. He started swimming with Shepheard at the Lions pool before becoming a coach.
Nikita Scott, 16, is a pupil at Clifton Hunter and has been working with Shepheard for a few months.
“I first spotted Nikita when I was teaching swimming with the year 10 girls at Clifton Hunter,” Shepheard said. “She is a great swimmer, but, more importantly, has a really nice manner around the young children.”
Jonathon Jackson, 17, graduated from Clifton Hunter this year and is now studying at the Cayman Islands Further Education Centre.
Last Saturday was his first day on the job and he was literally thrown in at the deep end.
“I loved the way he got right in and was not nervous of children,” Shepheard said. “Not forgetting Emma Wilson, who has been my friend ever since I arrived on island. She was there for me when I started the swim school and was there again.”
Shepheard also had 30 children from the Treasure Island Swim Club competing at the Lions pool that day. Her youngest competitor was Emily Palmer, 4, who completed the 25 meter freestyle.
“Looking at some of the children swimming at Clifton Hunter on Saturday our swim club is going to grow. There is hidden talent in East End and they can now have the same opportunity as those that live in George Town.”