GOLD for Team BVI
- July 29th, 2011
- in Yachting
Team BVI Brings Home the GOLD
I spoke to the coach and athletes of Special Olympics BVI over the phone as the team made their way back to base after the prize giving ceremony, and I could imagine the scene at the other end: a moving bus full of laughing teenagers and young adults wearing black and gold track suits and big smiles while landscapes from Athens whizzed by the windows. “They’re all sitting around me with medals around their necks jingling,” SOBVI coach Alison Knights Bramble said. “They don’t look any different than they did without their medals,” she joked, but added that their heads might be “a little bit bigger this week than they were before.” She mentioned that they hadn’t yet had enough time to process the reality of their victories. “When you go through something like this,” she said, "it’s just all too much, and I don’t think things will sink in until they hit the tarmac at Beef Island.”
The weeklong regatta was an exhausting but rewarding one for the team, and Alison kept all the hometown fans updated with her daily blog (www.specialolympicsbvi.org). The emotional and competitive ups and downs read like a game of Chutes and Ladders, ultimately ending on a highpoint with four of the six athletes getting some time on the podium. The sailors, said the coach, “have not only put Tortola on the map, but they’ve changed the face of Special Olympics sailing.” They did this, Alison said, by demonstrating “boat handling skills I haven’t seen in any other boat from any other country.” In addition, the BVI team was the only team consisting of teenagers. “We put boys out there, young boys,” she said of Delroy Gordon and Lenford Pope, “who can throw a boat around like any experienced athlete.”
One of the most challenging aspects was the lack of wind which frustrated the BVI team who are accustomed to sailing in high-wind conditions. “We sail better when there’s wind. … That’s where we live,” Jaye Noel, one of the unified partners, said from Athens. “It actually shows [in the results]. When the wind came yesterday, we got two seconds.” Jaye and his teammate Akeem David earned a fifth place finish overall out of twenty-one boats in what Alison called the hardest division.
“Our guys like wind,” Alison said. She mentioned the disappointment of Delroy and Lenford, the only team out of the 185 participating countries who entered the Level 4 sailing category, when they learned that they would be racing in Level 2 and would not be allowed to use spinnakers and trapezes, two pieces of equipment that the boys have mastered in the winds of the British Virgin Islands. “It keeps the athletes down,” Alison said of the decision not to allow them to employ the skills they’ve learned. Delroy and Lenford, dubbed “The Dream Team,” managed to earn a few bullets as well as impress the other coaches and athletes. “They’ve been the darlings of the event,” Alison said. “People are totally gobsmacked by these guys that have the abilities to do the things they do.” Delroy wowed the US coaches during what Alison called the “celebrity races” with his concentration and skill level.
Glenford Gordon and Elsa Meyers fought for their medal against a team of Australians. “They had the biggest fight of their lives to hold on to the gold. It was back and forth all morning between the two boats,” Alison said. “It was just one of those days. The wind was breezy to start with then it dropped right off; the Australians loved that.” When she later handed Glen the phone, he said, “My sailing was good. I try hard.” In the end, they lost the gold by one point.The experience of traveling abroad and participating in the largest sporting event of 2011 may have been overwhelming, but the athletes enjoyed themselves.
“I made a lot of friends,” Jaye said. “I’m going to miss them.” Akeem said it was fun, especially the sailing, and he seemed very proud of his hard-earned fifth place. They told me how much they enjoyed the opening ceremonies which Jaye called “surprisingly fun” and said he was looking forward to the closing ceremonies. “They’ve made so many friends,” Alison said, “and they’ve been treated like royalty.”
A group of press, family, dignitaries, teachers, sponsors and friends certainly gave the team what felt like a royal welcome at Terrance B. Lettsome International Airport after their sponsored BVI Airways flight arrived. The athletes entered the VIP Lounge to raucous applause, well-wishing and lots of hugs, then headed straight to the refreshments for ice cold drinks to revive them after their long journey home. During her speech, Coach Alison praised the team and reiterated the fact that at the next Special Olympics, her team would be the team to beat after having raised the bar for the sport of sailing. They are looking forward to continuing to improve their skills, and Alison hopes to work on other sports within Special Olympics BVI, in addition to sailing, involving British Virgin Islands athletes with special needs of all ages. But for now, I hope the team gets a chance to allow their successes to sink in.