Cayman Islands athletes left on Tuesday for the Special Olympics World Summer Games in Los Angeles in high spirits and expecting to enjoy a wonderful sporting experience.
A delegation of 55, including 28 Special Olympics athletes, departed Owen Roberts International Airport for the Games, which run from Saturday until Aug. 2.
Cayman is competing in aquatics, basketball, bocce (Italian lawn bowling) and football.
In addition to the athletes, the team includes nine “unified partners,” five head coaches, 10 assistant coaches, two heads of delegation and one medic.
Unified partners is a new concept at the Games, allowing regular athletes to help the special athletes learn more skills in team sports.
The Special Olympics will bring 6,500 athletes and 3,000 coaches, representing 165 countries, along with 30,000 volunteers and an anticipated 500,000 spectators, to Los Angeles, making the 2015 Games one of the largest sports and humanitarian events anywhere in the world this year.
Antoinette “Toni” Johnson, head of delegation, said, “This is just the beginning of our adventure. Everybody is favorite to get medals because they’re all going to do their best. I’m not thinking about the amount of medals [we might win]. … We’re going to do well.”
Ms. Johnson added that the athletes are “thrilled and excited.” She said, “They have been working exceptionally hard and they’re looking forward to showing off their good work.”
Swimmer Andrew Smilley is the outstanding athlete in the party. He regularly finishes in the top 10 in Cayman’s open water swims and has attracted international media attention over the years. ESPN, an American TV sports channel, came to Grand Cayman last December to do a feature on Smilley.
The crew filmed him during an early morning swim session at the Lions Aquatic Centre and at the afternoon beach training.
Ms. Johnson said, “Andrew is one of our elite athletes who has been doing a lot of really hard work. As a matter of fact, he was training up to this morning.” She added that she expects him to do well at the Games.
At the last Special Olympics Games in Athens, Greece, in 2011, Cayman brought home several medals with a much smaller squad, so expectations are high. But Ms. Johnson emphasized that it is not only about podium finishes because these Games were designed to help special-needs athletes develop in many ways.
Penny McDowall, head coach of aquatics, said Cayman has a swimming relay team for the first time, two open water swimmers and a unified swimmer.
Smilley is in the 1,500-meter open water swim and the 800m freestyle in the pool.
“I expect great things from Andrew; I always do,” Ms. McDowall said. “He is going to do his best and we’ll see what happens.”
She added, “Kanza Bodden is in her first open water swim competitively and she’s made a huge gain in her swimming. She dropped eight minutes in her Flowers Mile Sea Swim last month.
“She’s done very well in the past year and she’ll be swimming with a unified partner, and in the 800m she’ll be by herself in the pool.”
Ms. McDowall said that in Athens the swimmers won seven medals, and hope to do as well this time.
Mr. Smilley, 25, said that in the open water swim “I’ll try to win.”