(CNS Local Life): The New Year’s Eve passing of Penny McDowall (59) after a years-long battle with cancer has hit the community hard, as people mourn the loss of a leading force in Special Olympics Cayman Islands (SOCI) and the sport of swimming. She founded and coached the SOCI aquatic programme, a commitment which eventually led to the awarding of a Cayman Islands Certificate and Badge of Honour in 2011.
On the SOCI Facebook page, the organisation wrote of McDowall’s passing, “All, it is with a very heavy heart I let you know that our beloved Coach Penny slipped away with the old year last night. Please join me in extending our heartfelt condolences to her family and to the many athletes who had the privilege of being mentored and mothered by her over the years. She was a person of enormous warmth and boundless generosity and her commitment to SOCI is legendary; we will all miss her greatly.”
The comments on that post, which represent a cross-section of the Cayman community, are testament to McDowall’s legacy and the shared grief of many.
The Missouri native arrived in Cayman in 1984, starting out as a dive instructor, but as noted in a government press release on her 2011 honour, “armed with a bachelor’s degree in education and a master’s in education and counselling psychology she turned to teaching, launching her new career with the Lighthouse School in 1991”.
At the school, she “saw a need to teach students to be comfortable in the water”, the release added, which led her to establish the SOCI swimming programme. In the years that followed, she was recognised as Coach of the Year by Special Olympics Caribbean, bestowed the Special Olympics’ Exemplary Coach Award, and was honoured as a Special Olympics North America’s Coach of the Year for 2016.
A post on the Down Syndrome Cayman Islands Facebook page simply said, “Our hearts are broken. There is no way to measure the impact you have made Miss Penny. Thank you.”
A memorial is being planned, with details to be announced.