Ileann Powery and Chante Smith-Johnson had many new and exciting experiences at the Toronto 2015 Pan American Games, which wrapped up over the weekend.
“We’ve never been to a big competition like this. Amazing, if I had to describe it in one word,” Powery said. “I can’t believe I saw gymnastics for the first time and it wasn’t on TV.”
Teenagers Powery and Smith-Johnson have been playing beach volleyball together for about two years. The young women said it was a sport they picked up at school a few years ago, but they never thought they would be at the Games to tell their story.
“I used to play football and then eventually I was introduced to volleyball through school,” Powery, 17, said. “We got onto the league and then we just advanced to here. I really don’t know how it happened, to be honest, I don’t know how I got here.”
The two young women hope to inspire others and boost volleyball’s profile in Cayman.
“We definitely need to start the community leagues to get people involved with playing the sport because that is the only way we can get it to develop and the only way people will know what it’s about,” Smith-Johnson, 18, said.
Following up on her international experience, Smith-Johnson is encouraging others to get involved. She believes the sport could eventually become quite popular.
Powery said, “People at home aren’t interested in volleyball, especially guys. They tend to think volleyball isn’t a very masculine sport, that’s why many young men don’t play it.”
She added, “I don’t know if we will influence [men] as much, but I really hope we do. I hope people see this as a bigger opportunity to play volleyball and not just a feminine sport. It’s for everyone.”
The female athletes took to the sand, facing their first challenge in competing against the host country, Canada.
“In that game … ahh we learned … patience is a virtue.” said Smith-Johnson. “We just have to learn to be patient. I mean I know that, but it’s just a mental thing,”
Powery said, “You’re not going to get good in a day. [Canada] had to practice a lot and do many different things to get to the level they are now.”
Although they were defeated by Canada, Uruguay, Trinidad and Tobago, Puerto Rico and Nicaragua, Powery and Smith-Johnson are still enthusiastic and focused: “We want more volleyball!”
“We want to be able to travel more, to represent Cayman more and to experience more,” Smith-Johnson said. “Now that we’ve been at the Pan Am Games, we now know what it is like to be at big games and we won’t get too uncomfortable now, knowing what they come with.”
This fall, Smith-Johnson will start college at Barry University in Florida, while Powery will be at University College of the Cayman Islands. “I don’t know what I will do when she is away,” Powery laughed. “I just hope I can find someone to play with because I can’t just be here by myself while she is off getting better.”
Having just competed in front of millions, Smith-Johnson said when she thinks about leaving her friends and family behind, she gets very anxious.
“I know it is a stepping-stone to life, but it still makes me nervous” she said. “I’m also working on being able to play volleyball at Barry. They want me to come up for pre-season [training] to try out, fingers crossed. I really hope I make the team and I’m able to play for them.”
Powery, who has one year left at UCCI, said she doesn’t think she is ready or as eager as Smith-Johnson to move to a new country yet.
“I think this trip helped me realize that being away from home is not as hard as I thought. This is actually my first time being away for this long, so I may just get the feeling to go away to school soon, without feeling so nervous.”