Triathlon is one of the toughest, most challenging sports out there, yet local athletes like Kevin Connolly have in recent years embraced every aspect of it, prepared to spend most of their spare time aspiring to be champions.
To improve, it is exhausting, extremely difficult and very time consuming, but that is the appeal of triathlon. The more effort put in, the greater the satisfaction.
Connolly’s training is going well at the moment after a long spell of injury last year. He is back under coach William Balderamos for a second season, and Connolly said he is “pretty confident with the way things have been progressing.”
Like all triathletes, he gets the most satisfaction out of merely finishing, especially when, like him, you’re relatively new to the sport.
“After you’re able to catch your breath and take in what you’ve just accomplished, it’s just an amazing feeling,” he said.
“Once you’ve gotten your feet wet, though, you get a bit more satisfaction not only in finishing, but achieving new personal best times as well.”
Curiosity as well as injuries were the main reasons Connolly initially dipped into triathlons.
He was strictly a runner before but a nagging shin injury led him to pick up cycling as a substitute.
He had always been a fairly decent swimmer, but never competitively. Two years ago Connolly decided to try out the Stroke and Stride series and he did reasonably well.
The Stroke and Stride series wraps up Wednesday and Connolly will be swimming the 800 meters and running the 2 miles along South Church Street from Sunset House, along with more than 100 other entrants.
For him, after reaching a high level in running and cycling, “triathlon was just the next step, it was inevitable.”
He added, “When all is said and done, I really admire the discipline required to do triathlon, and I think that carries over into your everyday life as well.”
He does not compete in any other sports but occasionally plays pickup basketball with friends for fun.
Connolly played some softball in the Little League as a kid. He did not take sports seriously, though, until his final year of middle school when basketball became an interest for a few years under coach Victor “Voot” O’Garro.
But a nagging knee injury forced Connolly to abandon his hoop dreams. He took up road running once fully fit, and then cycling races before joining in open water swims “and here I am now, doing triathlons.”
The 26-year-old Caymanian works at the CICSA Cooperative Credit Union as an IT support officer, and his sporting ambition – along with many young Caymanians vying to be local champ – is to repeat his first-place finish for his age group division in the Cayman Islands Triathlon in 2013, his debut year.
“I can realistically see myself making the overall podium within the next few years, if God spares life,” he said.
Connolly’s sporting hero is Australian triathlon pro Craig “Crowie” Alexander, who at 42 is still heavily involved in the sport as a coach and adviser, although he retired from competition last year.
“He’s so dedicated to his craft, one of the hardest workers in triathlon, and always remains humble despite being a three-time Ironman world champion.”
After the Stroke and Stride series, there are triathlon build-up events at Public Beach and numerous organized road runs, open water swims and cycle races to help prepare for the big one on Nov. 1.
No wonder he thinks “the Cayman sporting scene is thriving, man!”
Connolly said that because so many young Caymanians are excelling at major tournaments like the Pan Am and Commonwealth Games, it inspires others.
“Our SOCI athletes just brought home a ton of hardware as well from the Los Angeles Special Olympics,” he said. “The Cayman sporting scene is doing really well and I only see it getting better and better in the future.”
Tersh Broderick, owner of World Gym, last year introduced Maxathon, a fitness workout centered on ball sports. Connolly attended one session and enjoyed it so much he would like to see it introduced on a regular basis.
“I really enjoyed that Maxathon session,” he said. “It would be cool to have that as a regular setup in Cayman as it provides athletes with something new and unique.”
Connolly believes Cayman can improve its sporting tourism revenue by taking advantage of the natural beauty of the islands, especially for sea swims and triathlons.
“Earlier this year we were voted No. 1 in the world for top beaches. We need to capitalize on that and get more people to come and partake in these type of events.”
He added that “Cayman really is the ideal venue,” considering its crystal clear waters, fabulous weather, fast, flat roads and scenic views.
“Not many people have that luxury, let alone get up close and personal to absorb it all via sporting events.”
He has a point. The most widespread feedback from overseas participants in the Cayman Islands marathon is that this is the most picturesque one they have run and one of the best organized, with amazing eye for detail. There is always similar feedback for the Flowers Sea Swims and the NORCECA volleyball tournaments.
Connolly’s next big assignment is next month’s ITU World Triathlon Grand Final in Chicago, which he is “pretty excited about.”
He will compete with Kendall Ebanks, Justine Plenkiewicz and Brandon Williams, who are also representing Cayman. Ebanks is a world-class boxer who in recent years has been drawn to the variety of triathlon. Plenkiewicz is one of Cayman’s most experienced triathletes who has completed many Ironman events and ultra-distance runs. Williams is only 17 and already showing immense potential to one day be a world-class triathlete.
Connolly has the youth and enough talent and determination to fulfil his sporting dream of becoming an Olympic triathlon champion, needlessly adding, “because I love the sport and it’s something I’m passionate about.”
In the meantime, he just hopes to stay injury free and intends to keep working hard. “I’m looking forward to the upcoming Cayman triathlon and half marathon, hoping to set new personal bests in both.”