They came from near and far for all sorts of reasons and every one of the finishers at the annual Flowers Sea Swim left in satisfaction.
From Olympic veterans to unfit walkers, they came out in huge numbers to complete the one mile course.
The amount of prizes on offer attracted many overseas swimmers. This year’s event offered US$25,000 to anyone who set a new world open water record. In addition US$100,000 was given in cash and random prizes.
Some of the prizes offered included airline tickets from Cayman Airways to locales like Las Vegas, Toronto and various parts of Europe. Blackberries were handed out by Digicel, luxury gift packs from Luxe Life and restaurant vouchers.
All swimmers who finished inside 75 minutes received a medal, T-shirt and a random prize pack.
For Cayman, Olympic heroes Andrew Mackay and Heather Roffey competed. Both have finished in the top three in the past.
The spectacular event started at the Beach Club Colony and ended just north of the Westin Casuarina Resort.
All the proceeds will go to the Cayman branch of Big Brothers Big Sisters.
Proud winner was Cayman’s brilliant teenager Joel Rombough who after such a long distance still had to sprint at the end to win by a fingertip ahead of American visitor Matt Hooper.
‘Matt was ahead and right at the end I made a final push and I was able to get past him,’ a breathless Rombough beamed. Last year’s winner was Brett Fraser who is, of course, going to compete at the Beijing Olympics in August.
‘This is the first time I’ve won it. I’ve come second the past three years so it’s nice to finally get the win. Right at the end I wasn’t sure I could pull through but I managed to.
‘I think we were a bit into the current this year so the times were not that great but I still feel pretty good.’
Rombough, 18, is having a great year. He got two bronzes at the Carifta Games and is taking his good form to the Canadian Nationals in Calgary next.
He goes to the University of Toronto next year and the ultimate goal is to get to the London Olympics in 2012. ‘It will be good to train for it but I’m not sure yet. Hopefully, I’ll have a shot.’
Hooper was an Olympic swimmer not so long ago but he didn’t have the finishing edge to trump Rombough.
‘I thought I might be able to catch Joel and was trying to race as fast as I could but got touched out at the end. It happens.
‘I’ve swam in ocean races before but never done this swim before. It was nice, even though it was pretty rough today because it felt we were swimming into the current the whole time. Otherwise the water was nice, pretty flat.’
Hooper led from half way to near the end. At least he got some prize money but didn’t expect much. ‘Maybe I’ll be able to buy a T-shirt,’ he quipped.
Cayman’s Seiji Groome was third.
First female home was American former Olympian Rada Owen, a regular visitor to Cayman who coaches here when passing through. Owen brought a massive crowd with her from Los Angeles and they all seemed to be early finishers.
Her strength and experience really told as she felt that she did far more than the one mile course just to finish.
‘I’m not a very good open water swimmer,’ Owen said. ‘I like a pool and a straight line and out there I was all over the place. It felt easy in the water and now I feel really tired.
‘Do I get a load of cash? I don’t know. I was no where near setting the world record this time. Maybe next year.
‘I came for the swim but will be staying a while. How can you pass up a trip to the Cayman Islands? I’m making a nice little vacation out of it. There are 14 of us who came just for the swim.
‘This kind of event is great. Cayman has such a strong swimming community. I’ve never seen a community with so much love for swimming, which is why I love coming down here.
‘The fact that this tiny island can get over 600 people is amazing. There are events like this in California that don’t pull these kinds of numbers. So it says a lot for the event sponsors and the people and just the island itself.
Lara Butler, 13 was the second female home and first Caymanian, just ahead of Summer Flowers. ‘I didn’t do this swim last year and I’m really pleased to be amongst the leaders,’ Butler said. ‘I was just trying to keep up with my friend Matthew Courtis.’
Andrew Mackay claimed he struggled in finishing 21st but that was no shabby achievement considering the high level of competition.
‘I took it out hard and I was way behind already and decided there was no way, which was a good decision because I’m already dead right now,’ he said by way of explanation.
Mackay swam for Cayman at the last Olympics, in Athens and hoped to qualify again for Beijing in August. Despite a gallant attempt, he gave up the chase in February. ‘I haven’t really been in the water at all since then. It hurt a lot today, so I intend to get back in the water to keep fit.
‘The youngsters today did a great job. They thrashed me and I’m pretty proud of that,’ he joked.
Organiser Frankie Flowers said: ‘I am overjoyed because I expected about 560 in total and we got 630-odd swimmers.
‘I want to thank my community for supporting this event and I’m sure the Big Brothers Big Sisters will be proud at the massive support they got. And the walkers were almost 500 so that’s a lot of money raised. I look forward to their support next year.
‘We’ll probably raise about $30,000. Some people have been very generous. One lady gave a $1,000 donation for the Big Brother Big Sister programme but she didn’t even walk. The support from the public has been amazing.’
Flowers anticipated paying out in prize money about $80,000 although neither the course or the world records fell. Flowers is managing director of Flowers Block and his company also gave generously, as it does every year.
He ensured to thank all his sponsors. ‘We want to thank our generous sponsors like the Department of Tourism, Cayman National, CUC Digicel, Dart Foundation, Cayman Airways, Westin Beach Club, Red Sail Sport, Cayman 27… and I apologise for anyone I didn’t mention.’
Flowers’ legendary fitness was on show again. He finished 95th. For a middle-aged man who used to be grossly overweight he is still a formidable swimmer. ‘My age is a secret. You’ll notice, nobody entered had to go in an age group.’
Frankie’s newly married daughter Dara Flowers-Burke swam too.
‘I’m one of the organisers but really and truly there is such a huge number of people who come together to make this event a success,’ she said.
‘We have over 100 volunteers with everyone from the medical department straight through to registration.
‘It’s a real community event. This has been our biggest season yet. It was amazing. We really started from humble beginnings, with around 40 swimmers in the first year. People came from all over the world, including all parts of America, Asia and Europe.
‘Every year we pick a charity and this year it was Big Brother Big Sister which is a mentorship programme and we’re so excited to have them on board and it’s such a great board.
‘We could not have done without the amazing support of so many community conscious organisations. Domino’s always comes out and gives us such a great rate, Tropicana Gatorade too.’