Cayman is sending 28 athletes, its largest delegation ever, to the Special Olympics World Summer Games this year.
The Games will be held in Los Angeles from July 25 to Aug. 2.
Special Olympics Cayman Islands is sending athletes to compete in aquatics, basketball, bocce (a ball throwing event) and football.
In addition to the 28 athletes, the team will include nine “unified partners” (regular athletes), five head coaches, 10 assistant coaches and two heads of delegation – a total of 54 people.
Unified partners is a new concept at the Games, allowing regular athletes to help the special ones learn more skills in team sports.
Seven thousand athletes and 3,000 coaches representing 177 countries, along with 30,000 volunteers and an anticipated 500,000 spectators, will make the Games the largest sports and humanitarian event anywhere in the world this year.
At a press conference on Wednesday to announce the trip was Sports Minister Osbourne Bodden, Special Olympics chairman Nick Freeland, the delegation’s head Antoinette Johnson and Special Olympics swimmer Andrew Smilley.
This is the seventh World Games to which Cayman is sending a delegation and the first time the athletes – between ages 9 and 52 – will compete in team sports.
Ms. Johnson said that the athletes met all the criteria to be selected, having trained consistently for a long time.
She highlighted the dedication that Mr. Smilley has shown in the past decade as a Special Olympics and regular international swimmer. This will be his fourth World Games. He won a gold medal in the open water swim at the last World Games in Greece four years ago.
Mr. Smilley said, “I think I speak for all of my fellow athletes when I say thank you to Cayman for all of the support that has been shown to us over the years.
“As athletes, we feel very honored and excited to represent the Cayman Islands, and we look forward to doing our best and being good ambassadors for our country.”
He added that the Cayman public can help them by contributing to their fundraising efforts.
“We can do so much knowing that you are there for us,” Mr. Smilley said. “Thank you for being our fans.”
At least $170,000 is needed to fund the trip, and so far around $70,000 has been raised from the private sector. Mr. Freeland said the government is always generous to Special Olympics projects, and he expects the same this time, and also a contribution from it for the fundraising golf tournament on Jan. 23.
Mr. Bodden said that the government is making its usual contribution to the Special Olympics budget and if there is a shortfall, funds will be made available.
“We implore the private sector to step up and support such an important initiative,” Mr. Bodden said. “Our Special Olympics athletes deserve nothing less.
“We have just recently brought a disability policy into this country and that shows how serious we are in relation to those among us who have challenges.”
Mr. Bodden added that he hopes all the athletes will do well, but it is not solely about winning medals.
“This is about developing these young people and not just about success at the Games. That exposure, with that amount of people, will naturally benefit each of them, and that’s what it is all about.”