Published in Cayman Airways Skies magazine, By Sarah Sekula
When you come from Cayman, falling in love with a snow-specific sport is not the norm. In fact, it’s so unusual that no Caymanian has ever participated in the Winter Olympics — until now.
Dow Travers is used to standing out. But this time it’s not just because of his fiery red locks. In February, he became the first Cayman athlete to participate in the Winter Olympics. That’s right: Travers, 22, zigzagged his way down the slopes in the men’s giant slalom race to prove — although he’s spent much of his life surrounded by pristine beaches and swaying palms — that he’s got game.
And believe it or not, his sterling sports credentials don’t end there. He’s a superstar in the rugby world, too. In 2008, Travers was named to the All-Ivy team and has played on the international circuit for the Cayman Islands. Now he hopes to not only compete in the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, but perhaps also in the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, when rugby will be added as an Olympic sport.
Talk about a hectic schedule. His life, so far, has indeed been an epic adventure. Not to mention that he balances all of this around his studies at Brown University, where he’s studying geo-biology. With all he’s got going on, it’s no surprise that this hyper-motivated athlete is causing such a stir.
We caught up with the Olympian about flying down the slopes at Whistler, introducing a new kind of Olympic attire to the world and his handful of nicknames, most of which centre around his distinguishing red hair.
Describe your emotions at the opening ceremonies as you held the Cayman flag.
The scale of the occasion really didn’t hit me until I walked around the corner backstage and looked up into the stadium; I turned to my coach behind me and said ‘Are you seeing this?’ That was one of the moments when I realised where I was and what I was doing.
What did you wear for the opening and closing ceremonies? I hear your outfits got lots of attention.
Our opening ceremony attire actually consisted of khakis, blue shirts, team jackets and a traditional silver thatch palm hat made in East End. Our flag-raising and closing-ceremony attire, however, was a pair of board shorts and heavy ski jacket. I don’t think that had been done before at the winter games.
How does it feel when Caymanians call you the new national hero? Is that too much pressure?
It’s a great honour to be able to represent my country, and I hope I made everyone back home proud. We have a long line of brilliant summer athletes, and it’s great that we can finally take that to the slopes.
What was it like growing up in Cayman? Did you love living there? Why?
Cayman is such a lovely place. It has this wonderful small-town community where everyone is always friendly and out to help each other. It is a great place to grow up.
When were you first exposed to ski racing? Why are you so passionate about the sport?
I started skiing on family vacations to Colorado, but I started racing when I was 14 at a ski camp in France. Ever since then it has been a hunt for snow, and it has only been in these last three years, once I got out of high school, that I have been able to start focusing on the sport a little more.
What is your favourite little-known destination in the Cayman Islands? Why do you enjoy it?
If I told you, it wouldn’t be little known anymore. But there is this wonderful bay near East End that is always quiet and a great place to get away from everything. Not that there is anything that you need to get away from in Cayman.
Where do you train throughout the year?
I train with the Brown University Ski Team when they are in season, but I am mostly based out of Aspen, Colorado, where the Aspen Valley Ski Club has been wonderful in helping out with training. My younger brothers now live in Aspen so that they can have the start on snow that I never had. Dean, my youngest brother, 13, came in second at the Junior Olympics last year with a gold in the super-G, and third in The Whistler Cup in giant slalom, which is a big international event for his age.
How are you handling all the new media attention?
It’s a great honour to be able to represent Cayman, and it’s brilliant to be able to showcase to the media and the world what we as a small nation can do when we set our sights on it. Of course, on the day [of the race] we zoned in and focused on what I could control. The media, other skiers and weather were not important. I just focused on my line and form, and the rest followed.
What did you eat the day of the race?
I had a light breakfast of watermelon, bananas and apple juice.
What was it like roaming around the Vancouver Olympic Village? Did anything surprise you?
The Olympic Village was great. It had amazing facilities, including a 24-hour gym, health care and cafeteria. Although I have been spoilt now. In the village all Coca-Cola products were free; I’m never going to want to pay for a Powerade again.
What did you think of the giant slalom course? How were the conditions?
They had water injected onto the course a couple nights before, and so it froze overnight. In the morning it was bullet proof. But in the afternoon it definitely warmed up a bit and the course got a little softer.
What are you favourite slopes to ski and why?
I love the ‘Y’ zones of Aspen Highlands. They are steep, deep and have some great little powder stashes. Although Whistler’s Ruby Bowl has to be up there, too.
Is it tough to get enough ski practice in?
Coming from an island where the average annual temperature is 81 degrees and the highest point is 63 feet above sea level, finding training is always difficult. Most of my competition is out there training 200 days a year, but this year I have struggled to find 50. It won’t be until after I have graduated that I will be able start committing more strongly to skiing.
Describe your workout schedule in the months leading up to the Winter Olympics.
I found the best fitness for skiing is snow miles. So when there is snow I‘m skiing as much as possible, and when there is not I’m on the rugby field. Of course, I’m in the gym every morning and afternoon after skiing to make sure I have a good recovery and stay sharp.
How did other Olympic athletes react when they found out you were from Cayman?
You definitely get the double take when walking around. No one really believes the [Cayman Islands] jackets at first, and there has been a lot of interest in the story of a Cayman athlete being at the Winter Olympics.
What sports did you grow up playing in Cayman?
My father was a keen rugby player, so we would always go out onto the beach and practise my side steps against palm trees. I grew up at The Cayman Club on West Bay Road.
When you left Cayman at 9 years old for boarding school in England, what was the culture shock like between England and Cayman?
It took me a while to get used to England. For one, I couldn’t understand where the sun had gone.
What nicknames have your friends and family given you over the years? Which is your favourite?
I’ve had more nicknames than I can remember. Although recently, it’s Ginja Ninja, Polar Bear, Red Rocket and Caymaniac. I’m sure my mum could tell you a couple more, too.
Where do you spend most of your time these days? When do you graduate?
I still live in Cayman. I’m just abroad a lot at Brown University, where I go to school, or on my hunt for snow. I’m currently class of 2012, so I have a couple more years before I can devote myself to the slopes.
How do you manage to juggle school, rugby and skiing?
My life has always been a balance of academics and sports. That’s why I chose Brown. It was a university where I could get a great education and still play rugby and ski.
What are your plans after graduating with your degree in geo-biology?
Once I graduate I should be able to start focusing on my skiing for a couple years before the 2014 games. I hope to get my points down as low as possible, so I can fend off my younger brother who is nipping at my heels. I would like to be a property developer once I have finished with my skiing and rugby, but geo-biology has always been of interest to me since my father embedded geology into me at a young age (forgive the pun). It was after Hurricane Ivan, however, that my interest in how the world works was really sparked.
I hear you’d like to play rugby in the 2016 Olympics. Is that true? Is it difficult to train for two sports at once?
I play Rugby XVs and 7s for Brown and for Cayman. I will be going to Guyana this summer for Rugby 7s at the Caribbean and Central American Games. It would be wonderful if we could qualify for the 2016 games, although I might be a bit old by then for rugby. When you come from Cayman, finding time to train on snow is always difficult, and so I use my rugby in the off-season as a way to stay fit for when the snow starts to fall.
Do you plan on competing in the next Winter Olympics?
I’m definitely going to keep skiing while I’m at [Brown] University and see what I can get my points down to, then I will have two years to focus on skiing and trying to stay better than my little brother.