In a Caribbean country where the athletic stars traditionally shine in track and field, Jamaica's pool of swimming talent can often be shallow.
So when Barrington Swim Club head coach Rob Emery moved to the Chicago area from Florida a couple years ago, he figured the Kingston-based swimmers he's helped train in the past could learn a thing or two.
The Tornadoes Swim Club accepted his invitation to come north, sending eight of its members ages 6 to 15 to practice with their Barrington peers and join in a team dinner. They'll also took part in the Alligator Aquatics' "Swamp Swim" meet Saturday at Elk Grove High School before leaving Monday.
"To get out of the talent pool you typically see all the time frees you up to mentally and physically do things you otherwise wouldn't do," said Emery, an 18-time All American who used to swim for Wheaton College. "It's good not to swim against the same people all the time."
Though the Jamaicans made the long journey to Chicago on Thursday, all of them managed to set personal bests the following afternoon at the Barrington High School natatorium, Tornadoes coach Wendy Lee said.
"They were very nervous about being in a strange environment, but they really wanted to show that they could try to keep up," Lee said.
For 12-year-old Don-Romario Watson, who's staying with one of the host families, that proved to be a challenge. While trying to catch his breath after completing more than two dozen 100-meter sprints, he said he was amazed at the speed and endurance the Barrington swimmers had.
"I'm trying my hardest to keep up," said Watson, a former Florida resident looking forward to swimming the 100- and 200-meter breast stroke events. "I'm a bit nervous, but I think it's a really good idea for us to be up here."
Sarah Langlois, 12, of Barrington agreed, saying her teammates are learning a valuable lesson from the Jamaicans, as well.
"It's really cool because you get to see how other people train," she said.