By Ron Shillingford, email@example.com
Sunday 23rd August, 2009 Posted: 14:00 CIT (19:00 GMT)
TV weatherman John Foster did not see it coming but earlier this year we had Snow. Actually, it was the Canadian rapper, performing on a reggae show.
That is the nearest this part of the world will ever see it yet a born–Caymanian is so good at gliding down the stuff that he is competing in the Winter Olympics next year.
Cayman has a long history of Olympians in the Summer Games in several sports, including swimming, track and field, cycling and sailing but no Winter Games rep – until now.
Step forward Dow Travers who will make that historic leap for the Cayman Islands at the Winter Olympics in Vancouver, Canada in February.
He qualified last summer through an international ranking system in Antillanca, Chile.
In alpine skiing there are four disciplines; slalom, giant slalom, super giant slalom and the downhill.
Slalom is the fast, turning one which has the slowest speeds but quickest movements.
Downhill is from the top of the mountain to the bottom at the greatest speeds in excess of 90 miles per hour and minimal turns. The other two are a combination of those.
Travers chose the giant slalom which is considered the ‘art of skiing’ because it is a combination of all the alpine skiing disciplines.
Born and raised in Grand Cayman, Travers, 22 is the eldest of three talented skiing brothers; Dillon, 18, and Dean, 13.
He went to boarding school in the UK for many years and despite a cut–glass English accent insists: “I could never really race for a country that elects Tony Blair!”
Family winter vacations were always on the ski slopes of Beaver Creek, Colorado. The boys loved it and recently moved to Aspen.
Dean has benefited tremendously from being based in Aspen and was recently third in the Whistler Cup, a measure of his substantial progress because he was only hoping to get in the top ten against the world’s best.
Some years ago they saw an advert inviting entrants for the British ski academy in Chamany, France. Dow and Dillon decided to try to get in and were successful. Dillon is not currently skiing but at 13 was British champion.
The brothers later switched allegiance to Cayman.
Academics were always impressed upon them and it’s only been in the last year that Dow, who is still a student, has been able to concentrate on skiing.
He attends Brown University in Rhode Island and will probably major in geo–biology with a view to eventually becoming a property developer.
He spent a few weeks in Grand Cayman after intensive training in Chile and soon returns to his Ivy League university. The time here was a chance to recover from ankle surgery.
Travers is a real action man. Go to his Facebook entry you’ll also see him playing rugby and scuba–diving. He also water skis and was a keen cricketer.
Skiing competition starts in Aspen in December and in the meantime he’ll be returning to play rugby for Dryland. By January he’ll be in training camp until the start of the Games the next month.
Expectations from him are not too high but Travers does want to make an impression.
“It’s my first Games and very unusual that someone from the Caribbean is going to the Winter Olympics and I hope to do as well as I can do.
“It’s impossible to say exactly how I’ll do. I was 65th in the slalom at the world championships which is my weakest event. Hopefully, I’ll be better by then and we’ll see what happens.
“Right now I’m doing a large amount of cardio. I actually spend a lot of time on my bike spinning, using heart rate monitors to see what figures I can get up.”
What does it take to be a top skier? “It’s similar to a lot of sports – practice, practice, practice. There is a generic term that says you need 10,000 hours of training in whatever sport you do in order to be the best in the world.
“Skiing is very technical. It’s very much about muscle memory. You have to get your body in the right position but be fit enough and strong enough to be able to let your body do that.
“The equipment side alone is an art. Austrians and the best teams have people sworn to silence on what they do to the bases of their skis to make them as fast as they do.
“Grease is actually illegal because it’s too dangerous but there are lots of different techniques.”
Travers waxes his skis regularly and because he is in the tropics doesn’t need a ‘hotbox’ which melts the wax on the skis. He just leaves them outside in the sun. “It’s worked pretty well so far.”
There is a curiosity factor when competing, similar to the Jamaican Olympic bobsleigh team of 1988 that inspired the Cool Runnings blockbuster.
“I’m not the only completely rogue nation. There are a few. For some reason Nepal seems to generate a fascination about their ski team but they do have Everest. Yes, definitely, you do get a second glance. It’s always interesting to see.”
The Cool Runnings characters turned out to be better than expected and Travers wants to make the same impression, charging down at 50mph.
The danger aspect is not a concern although crashing is part of the process. His worse injury actually came playing cricket when diving to save a four, snapping his collarbone. An ACL (popped knee) was done in rugby when his studs stuck in the ground. So the ankle op was a relatively minor problem as far as Travers is concerned.
Rugby is probably his second favourite sport having gone to the World Cup Qualifiers. Extremely proud of the Cayman caps he’s gained, there is a burning ambition to gain more.
Intent on doing well in Vancouver, Travers will not be content with just going for experience.
“It’s the beginning of a long run. It’s the first time I’ve been able to focus solely on skiing and the peak of physical ability is 28 so I’ve got six more years and at least one more Olympics in me and once I get out of Brown I can really start focusing. I’m now getting to the point where I can compete at a higher level.”
Competing against skiers surrounded by snow is a huge disadvantage but Travers still manages to spend considerable time on the slopes.
“Obviously, until I can put in as many man hours on snow as they can I won’t be able to compete for gold. But I’m going to compete as high as I can based on my standards.”
This sport needs considerable funding and Dow is fortunate that he is been chiefly supported by his father Anthony. There’s sponsorship from skiing manufacturers Atomic and Uvex but dad provides the tens of thousands a year to keep them all racing.
Anthony is a retired Maples and Calder lawyer and is currently chairman of Cayman Islands Stocke Exchange.
Dow adds: “The Olympic Committee to this date has not helped us but I’m sure they will, given the chance.”
It all mounts up. Skis start at around $1,000 a pair, coaches are $200 a day, airfares run to thousands, lift tickets are $200 a day and shifting equipment is so pricey that the Austrians find it cheaper to have a private jet specifically for that.
Earlier this year, Travers went on a trip where the plane ticket was $200 but to carry the equipment was $800 with discount.
Mum Mary Anne is naturally concerned for the boys’ safety, especially with seemingly fearless Dean who is starting downhill next year. “You bounce at that age,” laughs Dow.
Come February he hopes to be doing more gliding than bouncing – and at a very rapid rate.