Ready to soar: Special Olympians take off for Abu Dhabi

Cayman’s Special Olympic squad is en route to the Middle East to compete in the World Games alongside more than 7,500 athletes from over 190 countries.

The 19-strong Cayman team bid farewell to their families at Owen Roberts International Airport Thursday as they began the long journey to Abu Dhabi for the games, which start next week.

Cayman’s athletes will represent their country in everything from bocce and basketball, to swimming and track and field.

“It is a very diverse group with a wide variety of ages and experience levels,” said swim coach Jess McDowall as she prepared to board the plane Thursday morning.

She said the athletes had worked hard and were excited to compete.

“I told them, ‘you have already put the work in. Enjoy your time, keep focused and do your best to represent your island and have a good time.’”

Ms. McDowall inherited her passion for helping people with special needs from her mother, Penny McDowall, the founder of Cayman’s Special Olympics swimming program. She passed away in January after a long battle with cancer.

The Special Olympics Cayman Islands team gathers at Owen Roberts International Airport Thursday morning before beginning their journey to Abu Dhabi. – Photo: Taneos Ramsay

“She did a very good job of making sure I was ready to step into her shoes. I was basically born into it,” Ms. McDowall said.

She said she was confident that the team would do her mother proud.

“The team knows that she is there with them as well. It is sad timing, but also great timing, because we get to show the world what she has done with these athletes.”

The team was traveling to Fort Lauderdale Thursday at lunchtime before taking a 14-hour flight to Abu Dhabi.