With the CARIFTA Swimming Championships officially canceled, those swimmers at the top of the 15-17 age category will now be aged out when the competition gets underway next year.
Those athletes that would not get their “last dance” are Mark-Anthony Thompson, Ian Pinder, Kaliyah Albury, DaVante Carey and Anya MacPhail.
For MacPhail, this was going to be her sixth straight appearance at CARIFTA. Barbados is special to her because it is the country where her CARIFTA journey started, in 2015. She was one the team’s captains last year.
“Swimming for The Bahamas was truly an honor,” MacPhail said. “The support that came from not only family, fellow athletes and coaches, but from The Bahamas on a whole fueled our desire to win. I loved being able to wear the colors of the Bahamian flag when competing internationally. When representing my country I gave it my all when competing.”
She swims distance events, and last year, swam freestyle, butterfly and individual medley (IM) races.
MacPhail said she was disappointed that CARIFTA was canceled but understands why it was done.
“Initially I was disappointed, but I understand that this decision was made for the greater good of the athletes and the countries that participate. I am
blessed to have so many CARIFTA games to look back on and I wish nothing but the best for Team Bahamas in the years to come,” MacPhail said.
Thompson, who swims the longer freestyle races, was able to secure a bronze medal in the 15-17 boys 1,500 meters (m) freestyle race last year. His older brother, Luke-Kennedy Thompson, won gold in that race. They were the first two medals that Team Bahamas won last year. Last year was Mark-Anthony’s second time on the traditional swim team and third on the open water team.
“I was very prepared for CARIFTA. I’ll always remember what my previous coach, Jorge Rodriguez, said to me about 10 percent of Olympic athletes being mentally and physically prepared, so I focused, worked hard and all I could say is I was ready to go out with a bang,” Thompson said.
The towering swimmer said that CARIFTA has given him a taste of international competition and he’s looking forward for what’s to come in the future.
“CARIFTA has helped me to get a small taste of what competition from a different country would be. This is only the tip of the iceberg with what’s to come. Now I’m ready to continue to the next phase in my swimming career,” he said.
This was Carey’s sixth straight year making the team. He has made a name for himself at the collegiate level in swimming, qualifying for the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Division II (DII) Swimming Championships in his freshman year at McKendree University this past season.
“I honestly wasn’t shocked [at the cancelation],” Carey said. “We are in a time that most people in their lifetime haven’t experienced, given the health concerns that would arise if the meet was to be held. Also, most swimmers if not all, were in a period where we weren’t allow to train, leaving us out of shape. From the amount of years and personal experience I have gained in swimming, it would’ve taken at least three months for me, personally, to get back to the level I was at before the shutdown.”
Carey, who swims backstroke and butterfly events, and dabbles in freestyle events, was hoping to go to Barbados, lower his personal best times, secure Bahamian and CARIFTA records, and just enjoy the moment.
This was going to be Albury’s third year on Team Bahamas. She was on the traditional pool team last year, swimming distance freestyle races, and was set to make an appearance on the open water team this year.
“I was very confident that I would have brought back a medal for a few reasons – one, I was familiar with the course; two, I was training extremely hard; and three, it was my last year and I was preparing to go out with a bang,” Albury said.
Last year, she helped her team win a bronze medal in the 4x200m free relay.
“It has been a joy to represent The Bahamas,” Albury said. “Wearing the aquamarine, black and gold is invigorating, a very proud moment. Every time I hit the water, I would give it my all because of the level of Bahamian pride that I have.”
One of the things that most of the swimmers will miss is the team spirit that is present and watching the races.
“I’m going to miss the excitement of being surrounded by the other competitors and watching the other races, especially when it gets intense during relays,” said Thompson.
It’s a very fierce rivalry between swimming clubs especially when it comes to the Bahamas Aquatics Federation (BAF) National Swimming Championships, but Albury said in the end, the club rivals become friends.
“I enjoyed the camaraderie that being on a CARIFTA team brought. I am friends with swimmers from the different swim clubs. I will miss the bonding experience with them. It’s an experience that only team members have,” Albury said.
MacPhail will miss the support she received from her teammates and coaches when she stood behind the starting blocks.
“I’ll definitely miss the family atmosphere these teams created. It was comforting to know that when I stood behind the blocks that I was supported by my teammates and coaches. Every year I was on a team I made lifelong friends and I have countless memories that I will cherish forever,” MacPhail said.
Carey said CARIFTA will be missed seeing that it is the first competition where young Caribbean athletes gets that national team experience which motivates the young athletes. He said the meet has done a lot for his career, including playing a major role in him going to college. Carey noted that college coaches pay a lot of attention to CARIFTA, scouting swimmers from the Caribbean.
Pinder carted off two individual gold medals in the 100 and 200m fly races last year. He also won gold in the 15-17 boys 4x100m medley relay.
All of the swimmers enter the senior level after the end of the year. They are looking forward to getting back into competition shape while staying safe as The Bahamas, the region and indeed the world continue to battle the COVID-19 pandemic.