Laura Whitney Ribbins came to the Cayman Islands in 1977 seeking four “S” – sea, sand, sun and a salary. Eventually, she gained a fifth – status.
What she founded and developed has made her one of the premier fitness trainers and entrepreneurs on the island. For the past 27 years her business – Fitness Connection – has introduced swimming to more than 500 children and 100 adults annually. With those numbers her fitness and aquatic centre is responsible for teaching nearly half of the indigenous population in these islands, which is a testament to her dedication.
“Laura Ribbins’ dedication, determination, staying power and lasting contribution to sports serves as an inspiration to other aspiring women who may want to turn their passion into a business as she has done,” said Cayman Islands Department of Sports Women’s Coordinator Merta Day.
Her qualifications are varied and solid. She has a bachelor’s degree in education with a minor in physical education and a variety of certifications in aquatics and fitness. She is also a training specialist for internationally recognized fitness and aquatic certification boards.
In January 1977, Mrs Ribbins arrived in Grand Cayman, having made her selection because it was cheapest island to fly to – only US$80 return at the time.
“I stayed at the Seaview Hotel, met Jerry Wilcox and learned to dive. After two weeks, I went back to Boston and told my parents I was moving to Cayman to teach,” Ms Ribbins recalled.
And she did. She credits “the people and community and a deep joy of what I do for a living” for keeping her here for 38 years. “We are very blessed with weather and the sea as well,” she added.
Mrs Ribbins started teaching physical education at Triple C School. During her teaching years, she began competing in triathlons and marathons and pursued various qualifications in personal training. Her athletic achievements include being a five-time finisher of the Iron Man Triathlon, an 11-time finisher in the Disney Half Marathon and a two-time finisher in the New York Marathon. To give a perspective on the degree of difficulty that Iron Man triathletes endure, the event consists of a 2.4-mile (3.86 km) swim, a 112-mile (180.25 km) bicycle ride and a 26.2-mile marathon 26.2-mile (42.2 km), raced in that order and without a break.
If dogged determination was her impetus for competing in these gruelling events, being a five-time finisher puts Ms Ribbins in an entirely different sphere. She is also defined by a passion for helping others to achieve their best, which has made her a staying force.
“Ironman taught me to keep going and at the same time helped me to realise who I am, who I want to be and that I can accomplish what I want to accomplish. The drive is within. The drive for these distances starts in your head and your determination keeps you moving. I am a jogger – I plod on and endurance is my strength. I also gain from the positive energy of striving to achieve goals,” she added.
But it was her love for teaching that motivated her to establish an industry.
“I love to teach, share and educate. I love it,” Ms Ribbins declared.
“Working with children as well as adults and guiding them to healthy lifestyles through training and coaching and watching someone’s eyes widen with a sparkle when they finally achieve a goal or overcome a fear is wonderfully rewarding,” she said.
“Sport is fundamental to the early development of children. The skills they learn through play will be key to developing their value systems. Team sports are extremely beneficial for helping kids develop life skills, as well as the fitness components of muscular strength and endurance, cardiovascular health and flexibility. Sport also teaches competition and how to cope with winning as well as losing,” she explained.
“I am so honoured and humbled to be selected for Honoring Women Month. To be recognised for what you love and being acknowledged for it is powerful. Words can’t express my true gratitude,” Ms Ribbins stated.