Rich swim continues to flower

Frank Flowers doesn’t do anything in half measures, that’s partly what makes him a successful businessman.

flowers joel

Rombough won last year. Photo: Ron Shillingford

Every aspect of his life is done in whirlwind fashion.

That’s why he is so proud of the annual Flowers Sea Swim which has been voted one of the top three sea swims in the world by Swimmers’ World Magazine.

He may not look it but Flowers used to be obese, and heading for an early grave.

Gluttony wasn’t the sole reason; as a sickly child he was in and out of hospital with asthma. Steroid medication and over-protective parents contributed to weight gain.

‘My loving parents gave me lots to eat in the belief that they were helping me,’ says Flowers. ‘I was still heavy in adulthood and at 29 decided to start running to shed the weight. I was 276 pounds.’

Initially he could only manage short distances. That increased to two miles after six months and then one Saturday evening he decided to do the loop around South Sound and hit eight miles.

He was hooked and did not miss a day’s training for the next 12 years. Even now, at 61, he still runs daily, but knee problems restrict Flowers to only a few hundred yards. He only weighs 168 pounds now.

His weekly mileage was as high at 120 at one point, four months before turning 40. By then a competitive runner, Flowers actually looked forward to hitting the big 4-0 so that he could be a champion in age-group races.

But the knee went, surgery followed, cruelly curtailing his running ambitions.

‘That’s when I turned to swimming,’ he says. ‘I learned to swim one Friday evening and the next day in my first race I came second in my age-group in a half mile swim.’

He’s got a trophy in every race entered since and can count over 100.

Flowers decided to start his own sea swims and naturally wanted to be the best. He noticed that the Cayman Airways swim got over 100 entrants simply because they threw in two airline tickets to the winner. The more prizes, the bigger the entries.

The Lobster Pot Mile was only attracting a small number so the Flowers Sea Swim was borne out of the two.

On June 20, the seventeenth staging of the swim goes ahead and some of the world’s fastest swimmers will be contesting prizes worth over US$100,000.

They include Cayman Airways airline tickets, trips to Australia, Las Vegas, the UK, Philadelphia, Los Angeles and Toronto, Red Sail vouchers, Digicel Blackberrys and cell phones.

There is also US$25,000 on offer for breaking the world record for the one mile swim that ends at the Ritz-Carlton. Depending on the current, it will start at the Gecko Beach Bar or Royal Palms.

With the calibre of swimmers competing the course record is definitely expected to go along with the US$5,000 prize.

It could go to Cayman’s Olympic swimming brothers Shaune and Brett Fraser who will compete alongside the likes of Ryan Lochte, Anthony Nesty and Rada Owen. Last year it was won by Cayman teenager Joel Rombough.

The course record is 17 minutes 20 seconds, set by Chad Carvin and the female record is 18:13 set by Olympic champion Brooke Bennett. She would have swum much quicker had she not been mesmerised by passing shoals of fish as she was not used to such crystal clear waters.

The world record is 16 minutes flat and the female world record is 17:21.

These elite swimmers get their air fares and accommodation paid but no appearance money.

Lochte is one of the fastest swimmers in the world behind Michael Phelps. Lochte is a multiple world record holder and 2004 Olympic gold medallist.

Nesty won a gold medal at the 1988 Olympics and is now a coach to the elite swimmers at the University of Florida where the Fraser brothers are students. Owen competed at the Sydney Olympics in 2000.

Dara, Frank’s daughter, says: ‘We have an awesome amount of Olympic swimmers coming over and even Dave Kelsheimer is coming from Australia with around 20 swimmers. He’s bringing some world renowned long distance swimmers.

‘Jim Fraser, Shaune and Brett’s dad, has been very instrumental in getting these top swimmers over.

‘We’ve also got some master swimmers, people who were world class in the past and are still good. Rada Owen is bringing 20 again from California. Last year around 650 registered and over 700 are expected this time.

‘We’ve started such a following with people coming regularly and booking their holidays around it. People in January were calling me to find out the date.’

The charity benefitting from this swim is the Sunrise Adult Training Centre which helps adults with learning disabilities.

The Flowers family feels the centre is a neglected part of society and a worthy recipient. Last year over $20,000 was raised for the designated charity Big Brothers Big Sisters.

The whole Flowers clan get behind this event either by swimming or organising. Besides Frank and Dara, there’s Frank Jnr, King, Lisa, Richard and mum Eve.

When he was alive, even grandad Clarence used to turn up in his wheelchair wearing a Flowers Sea Swim T-shirt.

This event is organised in conjunction with the Department of Tourism as invaluable tourist dollars boost the economy here.

Last year there were 70 overseas swimmers but because of the extra prize money they expect well over 100 this time.

Many bring their partners and offspring so the numbers are significantly swelled.

Few top swimmers came last year because all their training was geared towards competing in the Beijing Olympics. This time round they are preparing for the world championships in Rome in July.

Frankie adds: ‘I believe that this sea swim is now the No.1 in the world. It is certainly the richest, fastest and best organised on the planet. We have the highest calibre of swimmers, not just Olympians, but top professional people; lawyers, doctors, accountants, CEOs.

‘There are a lot of human interest stories too. A couple of years ago a little girl of seven finished near last but she got two tickets to fly to the UK. She was besides herself with joy and cried her eyes out.

‘An English lady who finished last a few years ago went on CITN TV wearing her medal. She was so proud and excited as if she had won Olympic gold.

‘Last year a family of four including a baby of 18 months and a four-year-old registered, but the baby was too small to be allowed to do it. Their passion for doing the swim was incredible.

‘All these stories highlight how much this event means to people. With the help and support from the community and sponsors, it has grown into something special.’