Several swimmers hit CARIFTA qualifying times and others broke local records as the Cayman Islands Aquatic Sports Association hosted its National Championships 3 to 6 March under the bright lights and in front of packed crowds at the Camana Bay Sports Complex pool.
Camana Bay Swim Club’s Raegan Lisle was the top girls medal winner with seven first-place finishes, while Will Sellars led the way on the boys side with six gold medals.
“There was a lot of really good swimming going on,” said CIASA President Stephen Broadbelt. “I would say 80% of the national team for CARIFTA had already gotten their two qualifying times that they need and so there was just those last few that were pushing extra hard to get on the team."
Broadbelt said that even though the times of final CARIFTA qualifiers weren't the fastest times at the National Championships, they were nonetheless among the biggest achievements of the meet.
"They actually made the [CARIFTA] team and certainly it didn’t go unnoticed," he said.
The National Championships meet is held annually at the Camana Bay Sports Complex pool. It’s the only four-day local meet and is meant to serve as a preparatory competition for the upcoming CARIFTA Swimming & Diving Championships, the top regional swim meet. The Camana Bay pool serves as the stage for local swimmers to put up top times, a culmination of the work put in throughout the season.
Seven Mile Swimmers’ Kaitlyn Sullivan, who earned three first-place finishes at the meet and has qualified for the CARIFTA team, said she looks forward to the National Championships every year.
"I get to be with my team and watch and cheer as they, too, are trying to qualify and get personal bests,” she said. “Racing is the best reward knowing how much effort and hard work has been put into training. When you see the achievement you’ve been waiting for on the clock after the race, [it’s] just the most amazing feeling.”
It’s no coincidence the Camana Bay pool facility hosts the most important local swim meet of the year, either. Opened in 2009 and renovated in 2015, the facility’s condition and space make it an ideal place to hold nationals.
“It is the best pool from a competitive specification for swimming,” Broadbelt said. “It has eight lanes instead of six, which you have at [the Lions Aquatic Centre pool] and … the Camana Bay pool is deeper for the starts, so they can actually do proper starts.”
This year’s meet, in particular, seemed to distinguish itself from others thanks to the level of energy and enthusiasm from the crowd and participants. For the first time, the meet was livestreamed by CIASA for those who couldn’t attend. Those who could made their voices heard, a unique characteristic after crowds at local meets have been limited due to the COVID-19 pandemic crowd restrictions.
“Being at the Camana Bay pool is such a favourable environment to swim in and having so many people being there gives off the sense of being at CARIFTA or a bigger meet,” Sullivan said. “To see all the teams and swimmers cheering so loudly for each other shows how strong of a passion there is for swimming and it’s something everyone should experience.”
Outside of CARIFTA qualifying times and broken records, the meet featured another historic distinction — for the first time, a girls' 1,500-metres freestyle event was held, as was a boys' 800 freestyle event. In the past — at most local and international tiers of swimming — the boys swam only the 1,500 free and the girls were limited to only the 800.
“It was the first time the male and the female gender races had the exact same events,” said Broadbelt, who felt it was a particularly important achievement for the girls swimmers. “It's just kind of equality for women in sports. [Swimming] is finally catching up with the rest of the sporting world.”
The meet also saw a pair of international swimmers from Florida as well as former CARIFTA gold medalist Joel Rombough compete with the local swimmers.
This article was originally published in the April 2022 print edition of Camana Bay Times.