Carifta team could be best yet’
Ben Smith, Bermuda’s national swim coach, believes the island could send its strongest team to compete at the Carifta Games in the Cayman Islands in April.
After last weekend’s final meet for athletes to achieve qualification at the Bermuda Amateur Swimming Association pool at Saltus Grammar School, 28 swimmers will be eligible for selection.
Although the swimmers hard work has finished for the time being, it is just beginning for Smith, although he admitted that the difficult selection process is a welcome headache to have.
“Now that the qualifying process has finished, we will have to go away and compile all of the information that we have on not only the swimmers based in Bermuda but also those that are abroad,” said Smith, who will only be able to select two swimmers in each of the 15 events.
“All of those coaches will give us feedback and then it is a case of making those tough decisions on what swimmers will be placed in what events and how many we can space out to give us a good chance.
“The team is extremely strong at the moment and that standard has been raised over the past year or so to the point now where we have arguably our highest standard ever.
“When you consider that there are 200 swimmers eligible from Bermuda, to have around 30 that have reached that level is rather impressive.
“It is also impressive when you look at the age of the team. Among the 28 that have met the standard, there are six boys and girls who will compete in the 11-12 age category.
“This will be the first time going to Carifta for some of them and that is really positive for us.”
Of the 28 athletes who met the standard, one success was celebrated in particular more than any other. Facing his last chance to meet qualification, Zebedee Wakely, seized his moment in the men’s over-15 100 metres butterfly, touching the wall in a winning time of 59.19sec. It was not only his timely showing that was cause for celebration, but more so the circumstances of the battle the Warwick Academy pupil had to overcome to achieve his success.
Overcoming major surgery for severe scoliosis (curvature of the spine) just 12 months ago, there was concerns Wakeley may struggle to walk, let alone surpass all expectations in the pool.
“Zebedee is just an amazing story,” Smith said. “Because of his condition, he got to the point where it was affecting his lungs and he had to go in for an operation.
“It was a serious operation and doctors had fears about his walking but just a year on, he has met the Carifta qualification standard.
“There was no guarantee he would swim again, so to see him persevere and achieve what he has in such short space of time is just incredible.
“He has had nothing handed to him and had to qualify like anyone else. He wouldn’t take no for an answer and never felt sorry for himself.
“He worked tirelessly to get back to where he is now and deserves everything he gets.
“Seeing his, and his parents reaction at the weekend really said it all to me. From what he went through and knowing how badly he wanted it, to see him do it was just amazing. It was his last chance to qualify and so it felt really fitting that he achieved it when he did.”
Smith believes his group of swimmers could be able to upset the odds and break into the overall top five in the Cayman Islands.
“The big difference for me now is that we don’t only have some very talented individuals but also the depth to compete which makes a massive difference,” Smith said.
“It is still early days, but my aim would be to get inside that top five out of the 30 or so countries competing.
“We are one of the smallest islands competing so to do that would be an incredible achievement, but I believe this team gives us our best ever chance do that.”
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