She has retired, but Arianna Vanderpool-Wallace stands head and shoulders above the rest.
There have been high quality Bahamian swimmers down through the years, starting all the way back to a very early era when Sir Cyril Fountain was a champion; moving along to such as Ronnie Roberts, Andy Knowles, his son Jeremy Knowles, Alana Dillette, Nikia Deveaux and presently, Joanna Evans.
Sir Cyril, Roberts, the two Knowles, Dillette and Deveaux were tremendous sports ambassadors. Evans currently is special, but Arianna went to another level. She was a world elite like we never saw before. As a 16-year-old, Vanderpool-Wallace began drawing attention as she teamed up with seniors Deveaux, Dillette and others to begin The Bahamas’ march to prominence in the region.
By 2008, she was the best female swimmer in the country and I recall how shy she seemed on the big stage of the Olympics in Beijing. It was a great stepping-stone for some wonderful years to follow.
Vanderpool-Wallace evolved as one of the finest swimmers in National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) history with Auburn University, became a sprint powerhouse on the Caribbean and Latin American scenes and a noted competitor against the best of her world peers in the top international events.
In the short sprints, 50 meters and 100 meters whether freestyle or butterfly, Arianna was excellent and she was also a mighty relay force. In 2012, Vanderpool-Wallace historically (for The Bahamas) swam in an Olympic final, finishing eighth in the 50 meters freestyle.
Easily the largest producer of medals in swimming, Arianna also ended up as one of the most decorated Bahamians, all sports considered. She was the queen of the Central American and Caribbean Region, hauling in six gold, two silver and three bronze medals, from 2006 to 2014.
As great as she was in pools around the world, the distinguished way in which Vanderpool-Wallace moved through her competitive years, carrying The Bahamas banner, was equally commendable.
Indeed, as I have advocated in the cases of other standout athletes who greatly enhanced the image of the country, the Ministry of Youth, Sports and Culture ought to find a way to keep Vanderpool-Wallace connected to the national sports fraternity.
One of the failings of the sports ministry over time, inclusive of successive central administrations, has been the lack of capacity to properly fit our esteemed sports ambassadors into the mix in a meaningful way during their post-competitive years.
If those in the sports ministry could find a way to broaden the conventional perspective, many more of the retired greats of Vanderpool-Wallace’s ilk would be positioned to heighten the Bahamas Sports Brand.
To Vanderpool-Wallace, I say well done!
You have immensely enriched the national sports fraternity
(To respond to this column, kindly contact Fred Sturrup at email@example.com or on WhatsApp at 727-6363).