The last of the Cayman Islands CARIFTA swim team arrived home Thursday, clattering as they walked from all the medals around their necks.
The team of 25 swimmers won a record 56 medals at the competition in Barbados from April 11-24. Not only was the haul the largest, but it was more heavily weighted in gold and silvers than it has been in the past.
After years of bringing home far more modest numbers of medals, Cayman’s team jumped from 15 medals in 2016 to 47 the following year and has continued to be much more of a force than it was in the past.
This year, they won 18 gold medals, 21 silver and 17 bronze.
Bailey Weathers, the team’s technical director, attributed the improvement to better planning and a different selection process.
“Our local meets have been more competitive,” Weathers said as he waited for his swimmers to emerge from customs at Owen Roberts International Airport. “We have a national championship now. I think that helps.”
He said the team is also taking part in more camps and clinics.
Jake Bailey, 16, has been with the team for nine years and brought home a bronze and four silvers, as well as a gold in the 5K open water swim. He attributed the team’s jump in performance to better coaching.
“They’ve really improved how they train the swimmers,” Jake said. “They’ve made it race specific.”
He said he came just shy of medalling in the 5K last year, so this year’s gold was the highlight of the meet for him.
“I was at the bottom of my age group this year, so I have two more years,” he said. Hopefully, I can win those as well.”
He said he appreciated the cohesiveness of the team.
“You always had someone cheering for you,” he said. “I love how the team is so supportive of one another.”
Kyra Rabess, 14, who won an individual bronze and a bronze and two gold relay medals, said her teammates were inspiring.
“Everybody, they always have such positive energy that you’re positive all the time,” she said.
One of the meet’s highlights for her, Kyra said, was winning the gold in the 4×200 metre freestyle relay while setting a new CARIFTA record, 8:59.00.
Raya Embury-Brown, 14, was also on the relay. She came home with four gold medals and two bronze. Raya won both the 400 metre and 800 metre freestyle in her age group, surpassing her goals.
“I was hoping for at least one [gold medal],” she said. “I was not expecting four.”
She too attributed much of Cayman’s success to the team’s spirit.
“We have really good chemistry,” she said. “We’re all getting behind each other every race.”