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Finding a New Home

Special Olympics BVI moves to the Bitter End Yacht Club

Photography by Yacht Shots BVI 

In the February issue of Virgin Islands Property & Yacht, I wrote about the closing of the BVI Watersports Centre in Manuel Reef which, at the time, housed Special Olympics BVI. While directors and board members assured me that SOBVI would continue despite the centre’s closure, they could not announce the new location of the athletic program.

This April, Bitter End Yacht Club welcomed Special Olympics BVI to their new home in the North Sound of Virgin Gorda with a celebration that consisted of a dedication ceremony, games, food, a fashion show, an acoustic set by Quito Rhymer, and a live auction to raise money for the cause.

One of the highlights of the event was the dedication of two hand-pedaled racing cycles to two paraplegic BVI athletes. Paralympian Geoffrey Kennedy of Puerto Rico, who grew up in the BVI, donated two of his cycles in a ceremony that was attended by Special Olympics athletes, coaches, family, friends, sponsors, and Ninth District Representative Ralph O’Neal and his wife.

Geoff said that his relationship with the program began when Colin Bramble contacted him about helping him source a hand-cycle for Joel Jean-Baptiste.

Instead of merely helping Colin find a cycle, Geoff donated his own. “Achilles [International] donated it to me, so now I’m donating it to them,” he said. He was also pleased to be able to donate a second handpedaled cycle to paraplegic athlete Akeel Burrows.

During the dedication ceremony, Geoff said, “You cannot change the past; you can only move forward, so put the bikes to good use.” Akeel and Joel were then instructed on the use of the cycles by Geoff and BSAFE Director Chris Ghiorse, who later led races around Bitter End’s paths for the hand-cycles and additional bicycles that he’d brought over from Tortola.

After the ceremony, while kids snacked on boxed lunches, played bocce, and frolicked in the shallow waters surrounding BEYC, I chatted with Bitter End’s Chief Operating Officer Sandra Grisham-Clother and Resort Manager Mary Jo Ryan about the installation of Special Olympics BVI at their resort and marina.

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“There is a great synergy between what we do and what they do,” Sandra said. “Our tagline is fun, and we love what the Special Olympics is doing; they are bringing fun to people who like to have fun.”

The adults and children around us were certainly enjoying themselves in the sun or under the shaded gazebo. “It has brought a new energy to Bitter End as well. We’ve gotten goosebumps all over again,” she added. When I asked about the difficulties of athletes from Tortola getting over to Bitter End, Sandra told me that they have made arrangements with the North Sound Express to ferry the athletes over when they want to train.

Sandra further explained that the presence of the athletes engages everyone at the resort. The attitude of inclusion, established by SOBVI National Director Alison Knights Bramble and her husband Colin Bramble, has extended at Bitter End to include the staff and guests. “The guests love it,” she said and mentioned that guests have already made donations to Special Olympics BVI, simply due to the program’s presence at BEYC.

Alison Knights Bramble expressed her elation at the move to BEYC. “They have been amazingly enthusiastic and welcoming,” she said. “Let’s face it; it’s the best place to sail in the Virgin Islands, so I think Special Olympics BVI have landed on their feet.”

The sailing team has five crewed boats on which to sail, including three Wayfarer dinghies recently refurbished with funds provided by Digicel, and is beginning to establish a regular routine of going up to Bitter End once a week, she said, and she hopes to start alternating between Saturdays and Sundays, allowing the team to compete against Bitter End guests during their club racing on Sunday mornings.

Other than their training, Alison also said she hopes to find the atheletes a regional event where the team can compete in 2014. “I don’t like leaving it for four years between going off island to compete. They have to go to events; they have to race. It doesn’t necessarily need to be Special Olympics organized. It can be RYA organized.” But her eyes are still focused on the next Special Olympics World Summer Games in Los Angeles in 2015.

The event raised approximately $4000 for Special Olympics BVI, thanks to donations, a book sale, a dice game sponsored by LIME, and a live auction. “It was such a fantastic affair,” said Colin Bramble, “the best we’ve pulled off so far, and it was so good to see Geoff Kennedy come over and support and mentor our future athletes.” Sandra said that she looks forward to Bitter End Yacht Club hosting more fundraising events for SOBVI in the future.

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