The 37th Carifta Swimming Championships has come and gone, but the experience of representing one's country on one of the biggest stages in the region has left an indelible mark on the younger participants, in particular, to the point where they continue to revel in their accomplishments.

Jamaica's Kia Alert and Noland Barrett are two such swimmers, who though not new to national representation, basked in the fact that they rose to the occasion and displayed their immense potential with standout performances that assisted the country to its 45-medal tally, including 18 gold, 12 silver and 15 bronze.

The 27-member Jamaican team also placed fourth on the points standing with combined total of 559 points, behind host The Bahamas (1,096.50 points), who secured an unprecedented sixth-straight Carifta Swimming Championship victory. Cayman Islands (660 points), Trinidad and Tobago (639 points), and Barbados (486.50 points) were the other top five teams.

Alert, who competed in the girls’ 11-12 division, relished her second outing at the championship, as she earned most points for Jamaica. She copped gold in the 50m and 100m breaststroke, the 50m and 100m freestyle, as well as in the 50m butterfly, and those were complemented by silver in the 200m breaststroke and 200m individual medley (IM).

“I really felt like I was prepared enough to do really well, and I was excited just to put the hours of hard work on display, so I was really happy and proud hearing the National anthem after I won, knowing that all the hard work paid off,” Alert said.

“I also felt good about my other performances because I know I tried my hardest even on the third day when I had the 200m IM, 100m breast and 50m free, I tried my hardest and succeeded so I am really grateful that I came out healthy,” she added.

While delighted with her personal haul, Alert praised her teammates, Christanya Shirley and others, who in a consistent show of spirit and talent, also contributed significantly to Jamaica’s medal haul. That togetherness and pride she said is what swimmers count on to keep going, especially when things don’t go as expected in the pool.

“Team Jamaica’s performances deserve tremendous commendation. After a slow start, each member of the team gave their best and everyone contributed to our total points tally. For each day of the competitions there were several personal best performances seen, so even if swimmers did not medal, they did well enough to achieve PBs and that’s enough to be proud of,” Alert reasoned.

Meanwhile, the overseas-based Barrett, who had a credible outing at CCCAN last year, was making his debut at the Carifta Swimming Championships and contested finals in most of his events in the boys’ 13-14 category. He won gold in the 100m, 200m and the 400m freestyle events.

“Going into the Carifta Games I was excited to not only see my teammates I haven't seen in a while, but more importantly, to perform very well. I had a lot of fun being there and also dropping a lot of times and securing personal best, and while hearing the national anthem, I was proud that I was representing my country,” Barrett shared.

“So, I was really satisfied with my performances, I am more excited about the 400m free where I ended up dropping 11 seconds and I was really proud of how much I was able to accomplish on my first year and knowing that I have next year to do even better,” he noted.

Barrett contested the 13-14 age group alongside, Matthew Kennedy, Kai Radcliffe and others, who also produced credible performances.

Kennedy mined bronze in the 100m and 200m freestyle to go with his other top eight finishes, while Radcliffe, known for his breaststroke prowess, secured gold in the 50m and 100m breaststroke, and silver in the 200m breaststroke.

Radcliffe also flirted with the 50m breaststroke national age group record of 30.94s held by Kito Campbell, with his 30.98s-clocking.

Like Alert, Barrett, 14, pointed out that the team spirit was based on pride, passion and performance.

“I am proud of the team's performance, and I believe every athlete should be celebrated for their effort. All the coaches who prepared the swimmers for qualification and the championship should be proud of how they performed. We all stood strong, performed strong and gave out best to achieve what we did for Jamaica,” Barrett ended.

Raising an elite athlete is a financial challenge. That is something Jamaica’s swim parents know more than most, as they are stuck with the age-old burden of footing the cost to have their children represent the country.

Aside from occasional assistance from the ministry of sport and the Aquatic Sports Association of Jamaica’s (ASAJ), which covers a percentage of funding to some regional meets, or even when reimbursements are to come from World Aquatics, formerly FINA, for participation at some international meets, the task of covering travel expenses often leaves parents on edge to the point where they have to choose and refuse invitations to certain events.

The idea of not competing at certain events also takes a toll on the athletes, who at different levels of their respective careers, would be eager to rub shoulders with others from across the region or elsewhere around the world as part of their development.

In fact, while all swimmers at their respective levels are talented and focused, the hard truth is that it is those with the superior training and resources –hefty financial resources –who pull away from the pack.

It is with this in mind that Annelies Denny has reiterated the call for corporate Jamaica to partner with the ASAJ and parents to ensure that the country’s next Olympian doesn’t get left behind.

Denny, who will serve as Jamaica’s team manager to the Carifta Aquatics Championships, made the appeal as parents stare down a $400,000 budget to have their child participate at this year’s 37th edition of the event in The Bahamas from March 28 to April 7.

“We know swimming is not track and field as yet. We don't have that breakout star. Alia Atkinson has now retired and so I understand that corporate Jamaica may feel where is your Olympic medal or where is your world championship medal. I do understand that, but we would really welcome the opportunity to partner with you,” Denny said in a heartfelt plea.

“Some of these kids really have the potential to not just go to the Olympics or World Championship, but to actually do really well at the (age-group) level. But it's going to take a corporation to partner with us to make that happen. What you find is because they start competing at this young age group level, what happens is by the time the swimmers are physically matured and are ready to take it to that next level, the parents are kind of all tapped out because we bear the bulk of the cost,” she told SportsMax.TV.

While declaring that parents are happy to make the financial sacrifices in certain regards, it is during the build up to, and for participation at regional and international competitions that they require assistance to offset expenses.

Denny explained that partnering with the ASAJ also presents the opportunity for exposure to the company’s brand.

“Obviously, there's a lot of nutrition to think about, there's healthcare as well as your coaching fees. A technical suit which they have to race in, it can run up to US$500 or US$600, including the goggles, equipment, all of those things. So we bear those costs on a daily and ongoing basis. It is when it comes down to competitions where you're representing your country, you're looking for that partnership because these are age group swimmers,” Denny noted.

She continued: “So after a while it becomes a great burden, and you just can't do it anymore. And so, this is where we really need some partnerships because I think there's a lot of opportunity not just for the swimmers to do well, but also to, there's opportunity for branding and publicity that is unrivaled.

“When I think of the swimmers' deck T-shirts, those that they wear on the deck or the track suits, every time they're on the podium, you see the brand. It's a source of pride for them to wear the team T-shirt and bag and if a company’s brand is on those, it means their brand is being seen several times a week by hundreds of people all the time. So that’s one avenue and we're really ramping up our social media presence so there's a lot of opportunity there and I would just love for somebody to call and say they are on board.”

That said, Denny pointed out that the parent body under the guidance of the ASAJ’s sponsorship committee used initiatives, such as a bake sale to raise funds, which is a mere drop in the bucket when the overall figure of the team is taken into account.