As the swim season kicked off the new year Friday (4 January), it did so without one of it’s pillars; long time coach Penny McDowall.
Just one week removed from the sudden passing of the Special Olympics Sports Director at the age of 59, coaches and athletes reflected on her impact, and what made her so special, both in and out of the pool.
“I would go into things, and maybe make assumptions of abilities, or what people could handle in terms of interactions are concerned,” said Stingray Swim Club Head Coach David Pursley. “Then you watch Penny, and she treated ever single person with the same respect and expectations, no matter any station in life, no matter where they came from.”
With those expectations, came the drive to push Cayman’s Special Olympians to reach, and succeed, past their limits.
“She was in their face, she was up and down the pool,” said Pursley. “She expected them to do things most people would think they weren’t able to do, and I think that was a testament in how those kids performed. Her record on the world stage is unprecedented.”
As the road to March’s World Summer Games continues, Cayman’s Special Olympics swim team will move forward with heavy hearts. As the group congregated for practice at the Camana Bay Sports Complex Saturday, one thing was certain: Penny McDowall didn’t just train great swimmers, she mentored those around her to become better people.
“She was just so selfless,” said SOCI Swim Coach Ryan Mushin. “She gave me the opportunity to help coach, and it was one of the best things that happened to me in my life. I’ve worked with Olympians in the US, but this gave me a different type of structure. To work with someone who was so dedicated and passionate about what she did made me step up my game to a different level.”
With each stroke they take in the pool, Cayman’s Special Olympians say they continue to hear her voice on the road the Abu Dhabi.
“Every time I do something wrong, she was like ‘head-down, head-down’, I can hear her over everyone,” said said Keanu McKenzie. “She was just a strong lady, and I will remember her forever.”
Leaving a legacy like no other.
“It’s going to be hard for a little while,” said Pursley. “I honestly believe the impact she left is going to be lasting and forever. I know it will be in my heart for sure.”