Three, two, one...splash! — and another Cayman Islands National Swimming Championships got under way on 18 February in the Camana Bay Sports Complex Pool.
Proud moms and dads cheered with their phones out ready to take lots of videos. For keen young swimmers in the Cayman Islands, the four days of the National Championships, organised by the Cayman Islands Aquatic Sports Association — better known as CIASA — are the highlight of their swimming year.
The Nationals represent the biggest of Cayman’s local official swim meets, as well as a chance for young swimmers of every age from under-8s right up to 24-years-olds to compete with others who are passionate about swimming.
At this year's meet, more than 200 young swimmers participated from Cayman’s big three swimming clubs: Seven Mile Swimmers, Stingray Swim Club and Camana Bay Aquatic Club. It was a chance to race not only against the best in their own clubs, but also against the best in the Cayman Islands. The Nationals is also a door to competitive swimming with the very best from the rest of the whole world.
The championship is a last chance to qualify for the CARIFTA swimming championshps, which is normally held each spring, but this year, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, is now scheduled to take place in Barbados in July — keeping fingers crossed.
The way that the heats are structured in the Nationals follows CARIFTA, with qualifying heats in the morning and then finals, followed by a brief medal ceremony each evening, for each of the different age, stroke and distance categories. This format makes the Nationals a great way to get the competitors ready for CARIFTA — if they are fortunate enough to be selected — or for other big international meets that follow the same format.
But even if some of the participants are swimming for their own pleasure, getting together at the Nationals lets each swimmer see if all that getting up early in the morning has paid off.
Getting involved in a local swimming club with the aim of attaining a personal best at the Nationals keeps young people focused and teaches them how to blend having fun with self-discipline and teamwork.
Every swimmer has a favourite race. Tate Marr, 16, enjoys the 50-metre backstroke, as well as the 100-metre butterfly.
"I like events like this because I like being with friends, racing against them and just having fun," he said, adding that he has bigger dreams. "It would be fun to go to the Olympics.”
Sabine Ellison, 17, said, “My favourite stroke is breaststroke, but I also enjoy the individual medley, which is all the strokes in one race. I am always looking to improve...I’m always looking to just do better than I’ve done before.”
CIASA President Michael Lockwood explained why the Nationals are so important.
“The Cayman Islands National Swimming Championships provides swimmers with the valuable experience that comes from swimming in a prelims and finals meet format," he said.
Lockwood said swimmers have to get up early in the morning to compete in preliminary heats and try to race fast enough to make it to finals. However, he said they don't want to swim so fast that they "have nothing left in the tank for finals."After the preliminary heats, Lockwood said the swimmers have to make good use of the break, eating a good energy-boosting lunch and possibly taking a nap, before coming back for the finals, where they hope to race faster than they did in the morning. "It is exhilarating, exhausting and exciting, and swimmers do this for four days in a row," he said. "We know that this meet helps to prepare our younger swimmers for what to expect at bigger meets, and it helps our older, more experienced swimmers hone their skills at racing, resting and racing again.”
This article originally appeared in the March 2021 print issue of Camana Bay Times.