Athlete of the Week: Jillian Crooks — How the Cayman Islands’ youngest ever Olympian made waves in Homer, Alaska

Published: Nov. 9, 2021 at 10:04 PM AKST
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - A swimming pool is a regulated, isolated body of water, but talent can help it overflow into all corners of the world.

Take Homer High School’s 15-year-old freshman phenom swimmer Jillian Crooks for example, who’s journey began in the Cayman Islands and spilled over into the Tokyo Olympic Games this summer.

After representing the Cayman Islands at the Olympics as a flag barer and a competitor in the 100-meter freestyle event, placing 41st out of 52 total swimmers, Crooks had difficulties returning home due to a discrepancy in her vaccination records that would have required her to quarantine upon return.

However, this still does not explain how the Cayman Islands’ youngest ever Olympian made it to the fishing waters of Homer, Alaska.

That is where Mariners head swim coach Caleb Miller connects the dots. He’s a former swim coach in the Cayman Islands who has maintained a relationship with Crooks after moving to Alaska about two years ago.

“I just said, ‘hey, come up and train for a bit, let’s see where it goes and how that happens,’” Miller said. “It just ended up where it was like, ‘well, we could go back but we are here, we are training, we might as well finish it out.’ So her and her mom have been living in Homer at the moment.”

“I met the high school kids, I started training with them, we had a blast and yeah, this is how I ended up here,” Crooks added. “When coach Caleb called I was like, ‘alright, this is a new opportunity, a new place to go somewhere where I have never gone before.’ I have always seen Alaska on like National Geographic or like Discovery Channel, all of that stuff, and then just coming here to see all those nature stuff in real like, that was just really cool.”

Crooks made a splash in her few months in Alaska, smashing Region III records in both the 100-meter freestyle and 200 freestyle, clocking in at and 51.13 seconds and 1 minute, 50.54 seconds respectively. She capped off her time in Alaska with individual state championships in those events, breaking a 14-year-old state record in the 200 freestyle with a time of 1:49.85 set East Anchorage’s Meghan Cavanaugh in 2007 (1:50.02).

Homer's Jillian Crooks celebrates her record breaking performance in the 200 Freestyle at the...
Homer's Jillian Crooks celebrates her record breaking performance in the 200 Freestyle at the 2021 ASAA State Swim Meet at the Bartlett Pool.(Jordan Rodenberger)

While her name is now forever etched in the Alaska high school state record books, Crooks owns over 40 national records in the Cayman Islands.

“She is real well-rounded, I can trust her to do just a bout anything for me,” Miller said. “I think she really has a good discipline about her, I think really she is capable of keeping herself away from things that are going to keep her away from her goals and desires and what she wants to do.”

Crooks proved she is willing to go to any lengths to achieve her dreams by going from the Cayman Islands, to Tokyo, to Homer. While intimating for any 15 year old, her temporary home ensured Crooks was welcomed with open arms.

“All of Homer, and Alaska in general, they have been so nice to us,” Crooks said. “If we need anything, there will be like five people getting ready to help us out.”

While the community had a positive impact on Crooks, Miller says the same goes for the other way around.

“It has been good to have someone positive like Jillian there, it really has brought a good vibe to the pool everyday and so I think that has been a big asset and something that she has contributed big time,” he said.

Crooks swam in her last meet as a Homer Mariner, as she joins Team Cayman at the Junior Pan American Games in Cali, Colombia Nov. 25-Dec. 4. However, she hopes to leave a bit of her culture behind in Alaska.

“We taught some of the Homer people our Caribbean culture, mixed with the Caymanian culture and Jamaican culture as well,” Crooks recalled. “Teaching them, for example, Soca music, Caribbean music, I just love seeing them have fun with it.”

And if that does not stick, she wants to depart with one last piece of advice.

“Age is not a barrier, or your talent is not a barrier, you can do anything,” she said.

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