Sports tourism is a multibillion dollar industry of which many countries want a slice. The Cayman Islands has been a strong “soft” sports tourism destination for many years now, building the very foundation of its tourism reputation upon the quality of its scuba diving (the term “soft” referring to the fact that tourists travel to participate in recreational sporting or leisure interests).
In recent years, Cayman has worked hard as a jurisdiction to attract world-class sporting events to the island in a bid to establish itself as a contender in what’s termed the “hard” sports tourism market – one that is defined by the number of people attending a particular sports event.
Following on from a long list of world-class sporting events that have been successfully held in Cayman, including the Cayman Invitational athletics meet, the NORSECA Beach Volleyball Circuit, the CONCACAF Men’s U15 tournament, and the Women’s World Open Squash Tournament, to name but a few, a new competition was recently launched in a bid to entice some of the world’s top fitness athletes to Cayman’s shores.
Focus on fitness
Cayman Fitness Extravaganza 2014 was developed by Jason Smith and his sister Jenique Smith of Monster Nutrition as an all-encompassing fitness show to cater to all fitness organizations and fitness athletes in the Cayman Islands, and to inspire and educate the general public on fitness and health.
Jenique explains: “The idea originated to provide local fitness athletes with a venue to showcase their hard work and talent without having to travel overseas to enter a competition. The ultimate goal is to make this an annual fitness destination event that will also attract international competitors.”
Jenique says that Jason was the original fitness “guru” when he began his fitness journey back in 2005, seeing it as a great way to stay in shape for his Jet Ski racing. (Jason has been a frequent winner of the annual Jet Around Cayman competition and holds the Cayman Islands record for the fastest Jet Ski around Cayman).
“I got into it more seriously in 2009 when I was preparing to enter my first bodybuilding competition,” he says of his fitness regime. “It was at this time that I realized the lack of resources for serious athletes with regard to supplementation, so I began bringing in supplements for myself and my friends who were also competing, and it turned into a great business idea. That was when the idea for Monster Nutrition was born.”
Jenique, who has a career in marketing, says she started her fitness journey in late 2012.
“At this time I joined Jason in his business Monster Nutrition to help with his marketing. At the end of 2013 as a part of our marketing campaign, I came up with the idea of putting on a local show on behalf of Monster Nutrition to boost the fitness industry here in Cayman,” she explains.
Continuing the momentum
Cayman is no stranger to body building competitions. However, the momentum for such events ran out in recent years.
“All of the shows in previous years focused primarily on bodybuilding and figure competitions,” Jenique says. “We wanted to make our show different and for it to be an all-inclusive event for fitness athletes regardless of what gym they attend, or what their interest are, which is where the name ‘Fitness Extravaganza’ was born.”
The idea for the show, held last month at Camana Bay, initially included all dimensions and crossed over into all categories, such as Crossfit, Bikini, Physique, Fitness, Figure and Bodybuilding.
“We marketed the show with these categories but classes that had the most interest and which actually took place this year were Ms. Bikini, Ms. Figure, and Mr. Physique,” Jenique says, “We are hoping that as the show builds momentum, we will be able to host each class as originally proposed.”
Olga Kovtun, 31, who won Ms. Bikini at the Cayman Fitness Extravaganza, is originally from the Ukraine. She moved to Cayman four-and-a-half years ago. Kovtun and says she’s been attending the gym for the past three years, keeping her training varied.
“This was my first competition and I am very thankful to have had the opportunity to compete. I have been looking forward to doing this for the last several years, but the show had been canceled for a few years in a row,” she says. “I have had a wonderful trainer, Trina Gillis of Cayman Sports, who put together a complete training and competition nutrition plan to help me meet my goals of going on stage this year.”
Stephanie McDonald, 35, originally from South Africa, won the Ms. Figure class. She says even though she was the only contestant in that class, she felt like a winner on the night.
McDonald says she started to exercise in April 2012 to lose weight and get healthy.
“I moved on to weight training by the end of 2012 and that is when I started seeing serious results. But it wasn’t until January 2014 that I decided to move my training up a notch and work towards a new goal of competing. Through this entire process, I lost a total of 42 pounds,” she says.
The Cayman Fitness Extravaganza was her first competition.
“I decided to step completely out of my comfort zone and walk on stage competing in something I never thought I would ever do! It became my goal to compete in a natural bodybuilding competition, but as a complete novice I really didn’t know where to start,” she says. “The Cayman Fitness Extravaganza provided a wonderful opportunity.”
McDonald said Jenique and Jason Smith were fantastic and did everything to encourage and motivate the contestants.
“There were pre-show workshops which provided a great platform to meet other contestants and share thoughts and experiences of training. The buzz backstage on the evening of the show was electric and all the contestants were in great spirits, despite the nerves!
“It was a great event and I am very proud to have been part of something that will hopefully grow and grow in the Cayman Islands. Although I was alone in my category, I do hope that other women are encouraged to participate in the Figure category in future events,” she said.
Cayman could fill a market gap
Jenique says the pair, who are passionate about fitness, intend to make this an annually event, or every two years, depending on the amount of sponsorship and support from the athletes.
“Our ultimate goal is to get the show sanctioned so that we will have international competitors wanting to fly in to compete for their pro cards. The future goal is to put Cayman on the map in the fitness world,” Jason says.
McDonald believes this would be a great success.
“Cayman is an excellent location for international fitness competitors and has proved so when it hosted competitions in previous years. With the well-known Barbados show having lost funding for its international natural bodybuilding competition this year, there is certainly a gap in the Caribbean market that needs to be filled.
“Cayman also boasts many very talented competitors but no platform to showcase their hard work. With support both on-island and through leading international bodybuilding federations, Cayman Islands could see huge success,” McDonald says.
Kovtun agrees, adding Cayman is so beautiful that “any excuse to get away here is great.”
“I understand that in the past the bodybuilding competitions here have attracted a lot of attention and international competitors,” she says. “Jenique and Jason did a fantastic job of putting together this event. More than 200 people were in attendance. This generated a lot of momentum and buzz. Already I hear girls at the gym talking about looking into what it takes to compete in the future. The show will definitely attract more competitors and attention next year.
“Bigger and better things are in store.”
The first event
For this first event, classes were divided into open and amateur classes (first time entrants). The open class (with five or more participants) vied for a cash prize of $500, and the amateurs vied for an annual gym membership and trophy.
“However, despite the class division, all of our entrants are first time competitors,” Jenique says. “We were really excited that we had encouraged a new group of athletes to start competing. We also had a veteran bodybuilder, Marlon Birch, performing a guest posing routine as part of the show.”
Jose Bush, 32, originally from Honduras, winner of the Mr. Physique Open category, had been a footballer. He got into fitness training three years ago following an injury.
“In the last 10 months I made it my goal to compete in fitness,” he says. “The Cayman Fitness Extravaganza was my first competition. I love participating in fitness because I think physique is more reachable for anyone who wants to do it. I truly believe this new introduction of physique to the island is definitely going to be a success, should they continue it.”
Jenique says it’s important for her and Jason to promote health and fitness to the local community.
“Being fit isn’t just about looking great but also about being healthy. Cayman has so many people and young people that don’t eat right, don’t exercise, and are simply obese, and don’t feel well about their body image. We want to be able to inspire these people to change their lifestyle – because fitness isn’t a hobby it’s a lifestyle,” she says. “We also want to give back to a nonprofit organization and chose the athletes of the Special Olympics Cayman Islands. It was a great tie-in for our cause.”