The Special Olympics delegation that returned to Cayman on Tuesday is taking a well-earned break.
The 52 medals won at the World Games in Los Angeles was the biggest haul ever for a Cayman Islands delegation, this year headed by Antoinette “Toni” Johnson, who said she was “immensely proud” of her athletes.
Governor Helen Kilpatrick, Premier Alden McLaughlin and many politicians and government officials greeted the returning athletes Tuesday afternoon at Owen Roberts International Airport.
Training resumes in September, and after they have recuperated, athletes and coaches alike will be anxious to get back to competition.
Penny McDowall, the aquatics coach, saw the swimmers pick up 13 medals. She puts their success down to “training, training, training” and added, “We hit it hard and it paid off.”
Andrew Smilley won a silver in the 1,500 meters open water in a personal best time. He was determined to get gold, but was still satisfied with second place.
“The Games were pretty good,” he said. “I met a lot of people from different teams. We all did good. We did our best.”
McDowall said that Smilley, 25, wants to return for the Motts Channel 3.5-mile swim in North Carolina next month. He has also been invited back to an open water swim in Virginia.
Brothers Mark and Matthew Ebanks were proud siblings, having won medals in bocce and on the track, respectively.
Sprinter Cindy Whittaker, 19, won two silver medals. She said it was tough to win her medals, “but I did a good job.” She enjoyed how well the Games were hosted and thought visiting Universal Studios on Monday “was awesome.”
The 7-a-side football team won a gold medal even though they lost all six games. That’s because they registered as an Under-13 team a year ago but none of the other 160-plus countries entered, and they ended up playing grown men. Cayman players ranged in age from 9 to 13. They got their gold by default, but it was still fully deserved considering how small most were against the opposition.
Dwayne Ebanks, head of the football delegation, said, “We had players like Jomani Lee who had to mark 57-year-olds. I was still impressed with their game and how they showed a lot of heart and determination.”
Cayman’s leading goal-scorer was D’monte Seymour, a unified player (athlete with no mental incapabilities), with nine. He scored three hat-tricks. Tyrese Brown, a Special Olympics athlete, scored two goals. In total, Cayman scored 13.
Julius “Beaver” Smith, 12, the team captain, said, “The best thing about the Games was playing football and going on rides at Universal Studios.”
Ebanks added that including unified players in team sports is a “good policy” and he would like to see FIFA, the football governing body, creating competitions for special needs athletes playing with unified members, “especially in primary schools.”