The Cayman Islands has two talented swimmers competing in the Summer Games in Rio – and the pair happen to be brother and sister.
Geoff Butler, 20, will compete in the 400m freestyle on Saturday, and Lara Butler, 21, will compete on Sunday in the women’s 100m backstroke.
They are Cayman’s second set of siblings to swim at the Olympics, after Shaune and Brett Fraser competed in the 2008 Games.
“I’m really proud” to be invited to compete in the Olympics, said Geoff, who medaled nine times at Carifta, and seven times at the Island Games. “To get to go to the Olympics and represent Cayman has just been a dream really.”
Despite some nervousness about the size of the audiences that will be watching in the arena and on screens worldwide, Geoff said he is excited. During years of training and competing, “I always wanted to think I could make it,” he said.
Lara, who medaled more than 13 times at Carifta and 14 times at the Island Games, feels the same way.
“It’s pretty incredible to be able to get the chance to represent Cayman,” said the holder of national Cayman records in the 50m, 100m, 200m backstroke, 100m and 200m butterfly, 200m individual medley and 100m freestyle events.
“I’m glad it’s the second day in because you don’t get the nerves of competing in the first day races,” Lara said. “But I’m glad it’s towards the beginning so I can feel stress-free being able to watch everyone, and all the incredible athletes without being kind of overwhelmed.”
The Butlers are staying at the Olympic Village, and they have already been training at the pool.
According to the Butlers, training is and has been the most challenging aspect of swimming.
When each sibling reached 16, they left Cayman, one after the other, for Devon, England, for Plymouth College’s elite swimming program. Both were on the Plymouth Leanders Swim team and completed their A-levels before going off to separate universities.
As a recipient of the KPMG scholarship, Lara went to Loughborough University for her studies in accounting and economics, and Geoff headed to the University of Edinburgh, Scotland, for accounting and finance on a PwC scholarship.
As members of their universities’ swim teams, Geoff and Lara competed in numerous meets, including the Scottish Nationals and the British Universities and Colleges Sports championships.
The siblings also competed in the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Scotland.
As full-time students, both Lara and Geoff spent a combined 32 hours a week training in the pool with their schools’ swim clubs.
In his second year at Edinburgh, Geoff would spend 20 hours in the pool each week, four hours in the gym and two hours in circuit training.
During her last year at Loughborough, Lara cut back to just 12 hours in the pool and six hours in the gym each week, so she could dedicate more time to her studies.
Lara has competed in numerous European meets, including the Scottish Swim Nationals, the 2015 Amsterdam Cup, the British Nationals, the Edinburgh International Meet and the Commonwealth Games in Scotland, as well as the Pan Am Games in Guadalajara, Mexico in 2011 and in Toronto, Canada in 2015, where she placed fourth in the women’s 200m medley.
She and Geoff both competed in the 2014 FINA World Swimming Short Course Championships in Doha, Qatar, and in 2010, she competed in the World Short Course games in Dubai. In 2015, she competed in the World Long Course in Kazan, Russia.
Her biggest achievement was winning bronze in the women’s 200m butterfly (2:17.50) at the 2016 British Universities and Colleges Sport Nationals with the Loughborough Swimming Team. Lara then shifted her focus to a different event. She felt comfortable racing backstroke, so she dedicated more pool sessions to that event, which she will be competing in at the Olympics.
For Lara, who has been swimming competitively since age 11, the rewards have been “the friends you make all around the world and the life experiences you get.”
Named the 2015 Swimmer of the Year by the Cayman Islands Amateur Swimming Association, Lara works as a trainee auditor at KPMG. She is an aspiring forensic accountant.
Alongside Alexander McCallum and the Fraser brothers, Geoff swam to gold in the men’s 4x100m freestyle relay and a new record of 3:20.65 at the 2013 Island Games in Bermuda. He earned another gold medal in the 400m freestyle, and silver medals in the 1,500m freestyle, 4x100m relay medley and 4x50m freestyle relay. He also won bronze in the men’s 4x50m medley relay.
In 2015 in Jersey, he won his seventh Island Games medal by placing third in the men’s 4x50m freestyle.
He also competed in the 2011 Commonwealth Youth Games in the Isle of Man, and in the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Scotland, with sister Lara and Cayman swimmers Brett Fraser, David Ebanks, Lauren Hew and Alex McCallum.
Butler enters the Olympic 400m freestyle with a best time of 4:03.77 achieved in the 2016 Eindhoven Swim Cup in April with the Edinburgh Swimming Team. In March, he swam a 16:01 personal best in the 1,500m at the Edinburgh International meet.
“I also hold the 1,500m freestyle record in both short course and long course,” he said.
Geoff has also competed in several world championships of the International Swimming Federation, in 2014 in Doha, Qatar, and in 2015 in Kazan, Russia.
Geoff, who took up swimming with Lara around age 5, said the reward, for him, is “the feeling after you swim a good race.”
“It’s a nice accomplished feeling,” he said, “but also having your teammates there, [so] you can support [them] and they can support you as well, is a good feeling.”
After the Olympics, he will resume his studies at the University of Edinburgh. After graduation, he plans to return to Cayman to work for PwC.