Triathlon organizers used to boast that their sport is the fastest growing in the world. That may indeed be case in the Cayman Islands as every other athlete seems to be lured into the swim, bike and run event. Daniel Cummings is a typical new convert.
He has only been into cycling for the past two years and finishing with Cayman’s top riders like Jerome Ameline, Steve Abbott and Mitch Smith, for him, is “very exciting.”
Cummings was third in the 10-mile time trial two weeks ago behind Ameline and Abbott, an extremely satisfying result considering they are cycling specialists and Smith – who competed for Cayman at last year’s Commonwealth Games – finished fourth.
“It is a real personal validation that the time and effort I have put into my training is paying off,” he said. “I am not the most athletically gifted athlete so I employ a data-driven, focused training approach and execution to realize gains I just couldn’t get from natural ability.”
For a small community, Cayman has a strong cycling heritage and a talented crop of local athletes, Cummings said.
The sports boast a diverse group of established and new faces, that are constantly elevating the level of competition, forcing people to have to work even harder to compete for the top spots.
“One problem area I see, seems to be in the youth ranks as there only is a sprinkling of participation, evident in the fact that Cayman has rarely sent any young riders to compete in cycling at the regional, international and Olympic levels.
“A focus is truly needed to bring back that demographic, something I’m sure the local association is working on.”
After 22 years off the bike, Cummings recently rediscovered cycling and it has catapulted into being his “current pride and joy.”
For him, “the feeling of tearing the road up on a streamlined aerodynamic machine is just a sensation that can’t be replicated.
“When you are bombing down Queen’s Highway at close to 30 mph, I think it is [the] closest feeling to flying without leaving the ground.”
Cummings would love to one day qualify for the Ironman World Championships in Kona, Hawaii. “No ambitions on winning it, but with improvements in a few areas, I think I could get there someday.”
He has a diverse sporting background. You name it, he’s probably done it – everything from competing against a Chuck Norris student in martial arts to playing football with the legendary Italian Gianfranco Zola.
“I loved to compete in almost any sport I could and have competed at various levels in swimming, cycling, running, martial arts, triathlon, football, cricket, flag football, Little League, rugby, Gaelic football and track and field,” he said.
Starting at age 4, martial arts was Cummings’ sport of choice. He competed and enjoyed success at some of the biggest tournaments around the world and was ranked as high as No. 3 in fighting in the U.S. in the early 90’s.
After 20 years in martial arts, as a student and instructor, Cummings turned to his second passion, football.
From his late 20s and for a decade he played regularly at varying levels, enjoying spells in the Cayman Islands Football Association leagues with Sunset, CNB and Hadsphaltic, as well as indoor football at Kings Sports Center and the Sunday Football League.
After a foot injury two years ago, Cummings decided to train just to stay fit with local athlete Nora Balderamos who was training for an Ironman.
After attending Ironman Florida last year, he was hooked and completed the same race in 2015. With triathlon now squarely in his sights, Cummings has completed four half-Ironman events and a full Ironman. He intends to tackle more, even though he turned 40 at the end of last year.
England-born Cummings was born in Somerset. He has been in Cayman since 1986, aged 11, when his family arrived here from Bermuda and now has Caymanian status.
For something to do between training sessions, he jokes that he passes the time at Maples and Calder as the global creative services manager.
“Throughout the years, I always looked towards the achievements of some of Cayman’s most talented sportsman, guys like Lee Ramoon, Neil Murray and Kareem Streete-Thompson,” he said. “Each one has excelled both on local and international arenas throughout their career yet always remained humble. They never seeming to seek the spotlight, even though it frequently found them.”
Cummings thinks Cayman has always had a very robust sporting scene, both competitively and recreationally.
“Given the scale of our population, I think the regular success of our athletes at international competitions is a testament to both the discipline of the athletes and the expert guidance of our local coaches.”
He would like to see a local sports science facility because “nobody performing at the high levels of their sport does so without access to advanced performance testing and data analysis.”
He added, “We need to approach sport from a holistic level and embrace whatever is required so our home-grown athletes can train and prepare at local facilities to enable more of them to compete on the world stage.”
He thinks the key lies in local facilities, “as we need to look at both enhancing our current offerings and creating additional sport-specific arenas.”
To entice high-level amateurs and professional teams and athletes to use Cayman as a training platform, the experience needs to be as seamless as possible for them, Cummings said.
Upgrading the sporting infrastructure will allow them to have access to a similar quality of environments and amenities as they are used to getting at home and elsewhere.
His next big race is the Cayman Triathlon in the Olympic distance on Nov. 1.
“This one is special and I am really looking forward to participating,” he said. “The timing always clashed with Ironman Florida so I have never competed in it.
“I have basically been in long-course Ironman mode for the past two years, sometimes racking up multiple 20-hour training weeks.”
He is now dropping from Ironman type training volumes to shorter, higher intensity sessions and is really pushing to do well at the local triathlon.
“I train regularly with a great cross-section of exceptional athletes [and] top local triathletes DJ Evans Jr. and Gareth Van Den Bergh. We all have different strengths and weaknesses but a collaborative, knowledge sharing approach really helps create a strong environment we can all benefit from.”
His dream sporting ambitions have changed since discovering the multiple challenges of triathlon.
“A few years ago it would have been as a FIFA World Cup winner but these days with my triathlon ambitions, it would have to be as an Ironman world champion,” he said. “Just completing an Ironman is one of the planet’s most gruelling sporting achievements and [to] be at the pinnacle of such a feat would be an amazing accomplishment.”
Cummings has seen some amazing things during his sporting life. The quirkiest was when he watched a very portly man at a karate tournament executing a weapons form and upon attempting to return his samurai sword to its sheath, he missed and sliced his side open.
“A true warrior, he finished his routine before seeing the medic.”
His funniest experience was when his karate team was attending a tournament where Jean-Claude Van Damme was posing for pictures while doing his trademark full-split across two chairs.
“One of the guys from our karate team set up chairs behind him and did the same thing,” Cummings said. “Van Damme was not impressed and had the event’s security escort us out of the area.”
To emphasize how triathlon has become an all-consuming passion, in the last two years, Cummings has logged in training and competing more than 7,500 miles
of swimming, cycling and running.
“I couldn’t train like I do without the support of my wife Dawn and son, Max, 11,” he said. “Often in those dark training times, I think of seeing them when I get home and it helps to carry me through.”