The Cayman Islands team returned from the Special Olympics World Games in Los Angeles on Tuesday afternoon clutching their 52 medals with pride.
There were emotional scenes as the athletes reunited with their supporters and loved ones and showed off their medals in delight.
The haul included 21 gold, 11 silver and 20 bronze, as well as many personal bests.
On the tarmac at Owen Roberts International Airport, Governor Helen Kilpatrick, Premier Alden McLaughlin and several government ministers greeted the delegation of 55 that included 28 athletes. Governor Kilpatrick is the Special Olympics Cayman Islands patron.
The Cayman medal winners were: Kanza Bodden, Kathryn Kleinworth-Whorms, Keanu McKenzie, Lois Moody, Andrew Smilley and Hamish Wood (all in aquatics); Tyrese Brown, Castillo Tyler, Jaheim Ebanks, Erick Frederick, Jharran Greenidge, Jomani Lee, Nathan Morgan, D’monte Seymour and Beaver Smith (7-a-side football); Mark Ebanks, Leslie Hydes, Anna Jackson and Wanda Viscount (bocce); Orden Anglin, Matthew Ebanks, Jazlyn Hydes, Jordan McLean, Devon Ebanks, Mitchell Smith, Tessa Terry and Cindy Whittaker (track and field).
Antoinette “Toni” Johnson, head of the delegation, said at the airport Tuesday, “They are all super athletes, not just kids. Everybody came up to the plate and did their best. I’m so proud of them, the way they traveled, the way they worked and the way they got their competition done.”
Ms. Johnson added that the competition was “very, very tough” and that the times were “no way like an amateur competition, everybody came there pushing to win.”
She congratulated the coaches for preparing the athletes so well and added that the highlight of the Games for her was the successful inclusion of “unified partners” (athletes without intellectual disabilities who train and compete on the same team).
“In both the football and basketball, that’s the thing I’d like to see continue,” she said.
Track athlete Matthew Ebanks, who won gold in the 400 meters on his 24th birthday, said, “That was awesome and I thank everybody for sending out birthday greetings.”
He also came away with a 4x100m gold medal.
The swimmers did particularly well, winning 13 medals in total in their five-member team.
Penny McDowall, coach of the aquatics team, said, “They all did very well. Kanza Bodden did brilliantly in the 800m. She was a lap ahead of everybody and she did a great finish in the 1,500m open water race.
“She had a personal best and we were particularly happy because it was her first time in kind of rough open water.”
Kanza won a gold medal in the 800m freestyle and a bronze medal in the 1,500m open water swim.
Ms. McDowall was also delighted with the 4x50m relay team – which included Kanza – winning bronze in their first ever attempt.
Andrew Smilley took silver in the open water event. Ms. McDowall said it was a “heartbreaker for him” because he was in a “cat and mouse” game with the gold medalist.
“The guy was a head taller than he was and twice the arm stroke, but Andrew did his best,” she said. “It was a big personal best for him and I couldn’t ask for anything more.”
The Games ended on Sunday with thousands of athletes congregating at the closing ceremony.
Around 6,500 athletes took part in contests ranging from aquatics and soccer to weightlifting. Every competitor received a performance ribbon and a chance to take to the victory stand following their competition.
An estimated 500,000 people turned out to watch at venues in and around Los Angeles throughout the Games.