Chasing the dream of going to the Olympics as a participant requires dedication and sacrifice and for 17-year-old Pablo Bertran, that meant spending Christmas more than 17,000 miles away from his home here on Grand Cayman.
The St. Ignatius Catholic student recently returned from the International Sailing Federation World Youth Championship in Langkawi, Malaysia, where he placed 25th in the men’s laser radial division and was one of two athletes representing the Cayman flag at the tournament.
Prior to competing in Langkawi – Malaysia’s largest island – Bertran maintained a schedule consisting of CrossFit training and sailing three times a week.
“Training is hard but also fun and is varied,” he said. “It involves time on the water, time in the classroom and time in the gym.”
He described Malaysia to having beautiful mountainous terrain. Much like Cayman, he said, everyone was very friendly.
“We spent one day in Kuala Lumpur on the journey to Langkawi and then 13 days in Langkawi,” he said, adding that it also took two days of travel each way.
Bertran traveled with his teammate Florence Allan and coach Raph Harvey. They spent Christmas day in Langkawi sailing, and trying foods like tiger mantis shrimp and pineapple fried rice when he was not on the water.
He competed against 450 sailors from 76 countries.
“It was the one of the biggest youth fleets I have sailed in,” he said. “Being in a big fleet is always a little challenging coming from a small place like Cayman, however, we try and do as many international regattas as possible in order to prepare ourselves, so that it is not as intimidating.”
Bertran first started sailing at the age of 10 through the encouragement of his mother, Sarah, to try the sport in an after-school program. At 13 he began sailing competitively.
“Raph, my current coach, encouraged me to take up the sport competitively and other coaches at the sailing club, both present and past, have provided inspiration along the way. All the members at the sailing club are very supportive.”
After a 19-year absence from this event, Bertran’s and Allan’s Dec. 2015 participation was the fourth time the Cayman Islands had competed at the championship, the last time being 1996.
The young sailor is most proud about representing Cayman, and having had the opportunity to showcase his ambitions by sailing along with other international sailors.
The local teen finds that sailing has been a rewarding experience, and as a result he’s had the opportunity to explore different places and cultures. Thus far, the athlete has previously sailed in locales such as the U.S., China, Antigua, Canada and the British Virgin Islands.
“I [made] some great friends from all over the world at the international regattas, especially the youth events, and we stay in touch off the water.”
His ultimate goal would be to travel to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil as a participant in the 2016 Summer Olympics, which will be held this coming August. To do that, he must first qualify for the Olympics Men’s Laser Division.
“[Sailing] is an exciting, challenging sport. The conditions are always changing and you always have to be thinking and making decisions, so focus is important,” he said. “It would be fantastic to see more youths take up the sport competitively as I know a lot of children do learn to sail through the various programs at the club.”