Triathlon may be a mainstream sport now, as witnessed by the hundreds involved in last week’s annual staging of the Cayman Islands event at Public Beach, but years ago it was a tiny affair in Cayman Kai.
It must have taken a great deal of energy for entrants just to get over there for the daybreak start.
One veteran who remembers those times fondly is James Bebarfald, who has competed in 19 Cayman triathlons. His first one was in 1995, doing the swim leg in a team event. The Australian was hooked, and after that always did the Olympic distance of 1,500 meter swim, 40 kilometer bike and 10K run.
He loves swimming and biking but finds running a chore. Growing up in Melbourne, he played Australian Rules football for four years, then swam competitively for 10 years before discovering triathlon.
With little training, Bebarfald tackled the sprint distance triathlon last week, which is half the Olympic stretch. “It was a very well-organized event, great atmosphere. However, my time was slow at 1 hour, 42 minutes,” he said.
“It was extremely hot. Some folks were struggling … intelligent hydration is an absolute must to finish comfortably, especially in Cayman.”
A typical antipodean, Bebarfald left his homeland in 1989 to travel “and visited some wonderful countries” before settling in England for three years, in Pimlico, central London. Bebarfald arrived in Grand Cayman out of curiosity. A friend told him about the amazing wall diving here. He came over, loved it and never left.
Not seen much in any other Cayman sporting events, triathlon “is a terrific mental and athletic test and the sense of achievement is thrilling,” Bebarfald said.
He has finished around 25 Olympic distance triathlons and four half-Ironman distance events of 1.2 mile swim, 56 mile bike and 13.1 mile half-marathon.
“Training is key, but enjoying the event with friends and fellow athletes is priceless. We had a group attend the St. Petersburg Triathlon in Florida for almost 10 years in a row. Great memories – and a few good finishing times tossed in.”
For the past year Bebarfald has immersed himself in training at the CrossFit 7 Mile box.
“CrossFit has been a whole new challenge for me and while it’s raw and not anything like a regular gym, it’s addictive and has allowed me to lose almost 41 pounds in eight months,” he said.
“The staff at CrossFit 7 Mile create such a positive, friendly and productive atmosphere, I’ve found a new strength and energy in my early 50s. Thanks also goes to my wife, and [to] buddy Aaron Parkinson for the inspiration to give it a go.” His next serious sporting challenge is the aqua-bike event at the Cayman Mercuryman Triathlon in January.
A big rugby fan too, Bebarfald did not enjoy seeing the All Blacks beat Australia in the World Cup final last week. “I was very disappointed, but the Kiwis had a very good team. But we have overcome the All Blacks before, we can certainly do it again. Revenge will be sweet.”
The 51-year-old sales and rental agent at Williams2 Real Estate used to be a sports reporter at Cayman 27. He is still involved in the media, regularly serving as a master of ceremonies, and enjoying it immensely.
Bebarfald was emcee at last month’s amateur boxing show at the Lions Centre, and always entertains the crowd on the mic at the Cayman marathon. “I love to engage people and make them shout and laugh. I emceed a number of sporting events, fundraisers and Christmas events. I guess I have the gift of the gab.”
He has worked in radio in Australia and Cayman and also played in a few rock bands on rhythm guitar and singing in his younger days, so there is never any fear of stage fright.
Bebarfald hopes to one day complete a cycling endurance event that raises millions for kids cancer research.
With wife Danielle they have two healthy kids. The couple help raise funds for pediatric cancer research. Danielle has completed numerous sporting events to raise charity funds.
“It makes me both very sad and angry that such little funding is given to pediatric cancer research and so many kids are dying,” Bebarfald said. “Kids lose almost 70 years of life, whereas an adult or grandparent dying of cancer only lose a few.
“U.S. pediatric research funding is terrible. I’m so proud to be the emcee for the Cayman event Heroes for Hanna fundraiser every September. In just three events over three years we have now raised over US$1 million.”
Bebarfald enjoyed his swimming days, but it was a source of huge embarrassment once. “I completely missed the wall on a swimming tumble-turn and had to back up to push off.
“I also completely missed squirting Gatorade into my mouth once at a triathlon run aid station in California – and it splashed the girl’s face next to me.”
He likes inspiring people to be active. “Try something athletically different in your life, test yourself and above all, have fun. Enjoy the journey with friends or your partner. Don’t forget to laugh.”