Kevin Connolly is regularly featured among the top finishers in local road runs and occasionally cycling events. From being a total non-competitor a couple of years ago to finishing on the shoulders of the more established names is quite an achievement.
That’s because Connolly is one of a growing band of Cayman youngsters seriously pursuing the ultimate sporting challenge of the triathlon.
He was one of the early finishers in last month’s duathlon, one of the toughest events on the local calendar, and sees himself as a world-class triathlete in the future.
“I’ve got a good basic foundation of the three disciplines and I’ve only been improving with each event so I believe the sky is the limit,” Connolly said.
His main sport is running “because it’s the cheapest form of therapy after a long day’s work.” He added, “I really enjoy running. I find it relaxing and it helps clear your mind. All you really need is a good pair of running shoes to get started.”
Always improving thanks to doing the necessary long, painful hours to attain better times, Connolly, surprisingly, was not really much into sports as a kid, preferring to be cooped up in his bedroom playing video games.
It wasn’t until he reached high school that his sporting interests were piqued. On a whim, he joined in the school’s cross country event in grade 9 at George Hicks High School, despite no prior training.
A third place finish behind winner Maxwell Hyman and Deandre Simpson, who are now respectable athletes in track and basketball, respectively, turned him onto running after that and he has just stuck with it.
Introduced to basketball later through friends from his Savannah neighborhood, including Samuel and Shaad O’Garro and the Cotterells, Stephan, Josh and Davion, Connolly followed his hoop dreams and began playing in the local Under-19 leagues for a few years, as well as in men’s Division 1.
“I really enjoy playing basketball, but I made the decision to give it up in 2010 after experiencing chronic tendinitis in my left knee,” he said.
After seeking help from Cayman Physiotherapy, when he was pain free again, he sought a new challenge.
He found that running was easier on his knee so stuck with it and competed in some of the local 5K runs, along with good friend Marlon Crowe Jr., who was also an avid runner.
“With Marlon at my side, it really pushed me to get better and we began placing among the top three in our age group in a lot of our runs in 2011,” Connolly said.
Another injury sidelined him for a few months and after returning, Pablo Brito and Crowe had some friends interested in joining them for training. This quickly grew into a big group that enjoyed triathlon and its camaraderie.
“Most of us are now part of a group called Flashy Nation which take part in various sporting events on the island,” Connolly said. His first attempt at any type of swimming event was the Stroke and Stride series in 2012 and he did so well, he began swim training after that.
Flashy Nation’s profile is growing rapidly and, considering the obesity and health issues many Cayman youngsters have, it cannot be overexposed.
“Flashy Nation is simply trying to encourage the people of Cayman to live a healthy and active lifestyle,” said Connolly. “We would like the whole community to come together in sport and get that feeling of accomplishment when you complete an event.
“A lot of people believe that you need to be born athletic for these events, but anyone can do them so long as you set your mind to it.”
He added that whether it’s for a fitness or weight-loss goal or just a desire to compete, sport has a positive impact and the group is encouraging everyone to take one up.
Connolly only started cycling last year to complete the triathlon puzzle and went on to complete his first triathlon in November.
From casual interest, Connolly’s love for the sport has blossomed. “I would love to become a professional triathlete and represent the Cayman Islands at the Olympics in the future. That would be an honor. I would also like to one day take part in a full Ironman (2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike and 26.2-mile run).”
Connolly has just turned 25 and works as an IT support officer at the Credit Union. A minor foot injury has sidelined him again. In light training now, he intends to compete in the Stroke & Stride Series in August.
“My swimming has improved a lot since the last time I did it, so I would like to see where I stack up this year. I would really like to make it into the top 10 males.”
Marius Acker has been the undisputed king of local triathlon for almost a decade, but the Flashy Nation crew, which includes boxer Kendall Ebanks, cyclist Pedro Lopez Ramos and all-rounder DJ Evans, is improving inexorably.
“Right now, I’m just trying to be the best possible version of myself,” said Connolly. “I just want to continue training and keep improving, but if I had to choose one of Cayman’s established athletes to emulate, it would probably be Acker.
“He has been absolutely dominant over the years. Each year, he has the top swim and run splits. I think I can hold my own on the bike but I would definitely like to emulate his swimming and running ability.”
The ultra-taxing Mercuryman Triathlon in January was Connolly’s toughest challenge. The choppy East End waters made the 1.2 mile swim arduous, followed by a 56 mile bike in windy conditions and then an energy-sapping 13.1 half marathon run to complete.
“For me, it was the longest distance event I have done so far at 70.3 miles. I had very limited training after only completing my first triathlon in November, which was Olympic distance, and then making the jump to the half Iron distance a few months later. It was very challenging but I enjoyed it and definitely felt a great sense of accomplishment after completing.”
Connolly gave props to Ramos for his duathlon win. “Well done to the rest of Flashy Nation who also did well in the duathlon and I want to congratulate my little brother Bradley on taking part in his first duathlon. Keep it up.”