Celine Macken has been an integral member of the Cayman Islands triathlon scene for nearly 30 years, and in that time she has seen the sport flourish, particularly in the post-Hurricane Ivan years.
Ivan hit in 2004 and it took a while to recover, but when the annual Cayman Islands Triathlon is staged on Public Beach on Nov. 1, it will be its 19th time. Every year it gets bigger and is better organized.
A former president of the Cayman Islands Triathlon Association, Macken has immersed herself in swimming, biking and running since 1987 when she first came to these shores from Ireland.
A keen tennis and field hockey player at school and college, she has focused on triathlon since her arrival here.
“It was a big magnet,” Macken said. “I was addicted to being outside working out when I first came and still have a touch of the addiction.”
She loves cycling and initially really worked on it before improving her swimming and running. The variation takes the boredom out of doing just one discipline, she reasons. “People encouraged me so much. Riding with Craig Merren, Mitch Smith, Alfred Ebanks and Perri Merren gave me a huge grounding in cycling.”
The fact that the local weather makes triathlon so easy to train for helps, and there is a great community spirit.
The convenience of training around job and family commitments makes it more flexible than team sports – another reason why it thrives here.
It is also ideal for those who no longer play contact sports due to injuries or time restrictions. Triathlon has also had huge growth worldwide. “When I started, triathlon was in its infancy everywhere, but now there are an endless number of races to choose from,” Macken said.
“When I first came to Cayman, I played hockey, joined in all the running events, which were much less than now and also did cycle races and swimming. Any time left, I did some diving.”
Macken has lost count of the number of sprint triathlons and Olympic races she has completed. She has also completed 10 half-Ironman events around the U.S. and has participated in four triathlon age-group world championships.
“I did attempt Ironman Hawaii in 1990 but was pulled from the race at the 18th mile of the run for medical reasons.”
Finishing an Ironman of 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike and 26.2 marathon run is the only ambition Macken has left. She had a bad bike accident three weeks before Ironman Canada some years ago and had to pull out.
An accountant with Kirk Freeeport, she says she is “55 years young” and is proud of her Cayrish (Irish with status) dual nationality.
“My great friend and triathlon mentor was the late Pete Ribbins. He and the other early Cayman triathletes including Tim Bryne and Nick Baker gave me a huge grounding in the sport and encouraged me to go harder but sensibly.
“I have a lot of respect for anyone who applies themselves sensibly to any sport but is not overboard and still takes care of the their overall wellbeing, family and friends.”
Macken says there is such a wide range of sports to do here that “people can’t avail of all the opportunities.”
She added, “There are nearly too much, hence sports are competing for participants.”
To increase sports tourism revenue, Macken believes that for triathlon there needs to be more flight accommodation package deals. “People like to do several races a year, but a Cayman trip puts a big hole in any triathlete’s budget.”
In addition to the Cayman Islands Triathlon in November, she will probably also do the Miami Man, an aquathlon (swim and run) later that month.
“In recent times, due to being less competitive and various other factors, I work out a lot on my own, as not many go at my slower pace of swimming and running,” she said. “War wounds from my sporting activities are taking their toll!”
However, she enjoys a swim with Gill Comins and whoever is at Sunset House, and Macken sometimes runs with her. She also cycles with Bill Edwards and occasionally has Sunday brunch with him.
“I also do deep-water running on my own or with any gullible souls likely to join me, like Larry and Debbie Walters.”
Triathlon is a fabulous sport, Macken needlessly adds, providing numerous opportunities to meet great people.
“The three disciplines all train the same heart but allow better balance in the body, so we are not pounding the same bones and muscles all the time.
“However, trying to balance disciplines can be very difficult, as the sport can be addictive and people forget the body can only take so much.
“Also, living in Cayman is a plus and minus, as you can train all year round and then on the other hand, we are not forced to have an off season.”
Rest, recovery and nutrition are just as important, she said. It can be a selfish sport as it soon dictates when and what athletes eat and drink and how much sleep they get, and all this can dictate social lives, which can be hard on friendships and relationships.
The beauty of triathlon is that even when injured for one sport, athletes are not necessarily out of action totally.
When Macken had a bad back from bike crashes or after she broke her arm (twice), rather than being put off completely, she was able to run in the water and did some sessions on a spinning bike.
“Triathletes learn a lot from each other as we all chat during the hours training together, sharing experiences and how we have resolved issues.”
She added, “For me, training is my escapism and de-stressor.”
Needless to say, she eats and drinks sensibly.
“In any event you don’t put garbage fuel in a Ferrari, so why do so with your body?
“Triathlon training is not easy, but is enjoyable and sociable, even if you have to row with yourself to get yourself out on the road. A lot of body maintenance is required, but it can be done.”
She may be one of the older triathletes in Cayman, “but age is only a number and thankfully seems to be irrelevant to triathletes who are happy to have me join with them in training sessions, which I am very appreciative of.”
She quietly likes to do well in races and in training sessions and it does her heart and ego good to keep up with some of the younger athletes “even if I am old enough to be their mother!”