Cayman’s unrivalled open water conditions and sports tourism is an attraction that is building despite a world economic crises.
That was quite evident last week as visitors from all over the world came for the 17th annual Flowers Sea Swim, which was the biggest and best yet.
Of the 770-plus swimmers who entered the water, 175 were from overseas and if you factor in their friends and family who just came to enjoy Cayman’s beauty and excellent facilities – and all the food that swimmers eat – that is a significant income.
In addition to several groups of adults from California and Illinois, the famous mile event attracted a squad of 14 teenagers from Victoria, Australia who are a developing open water powerhouse.
Led by Dave Kelsheimer, former Cayman swim coach, the Surrey Park team was named 2008 Australian National Open Water Champion Team for both Juniors and Seniors. They were happy to leave winter, travel half way around the world to compete in Cayman’s famous clear, calm waters.
The Flowers Sea Swim was their primary focus, the first stop of a multi destination trip. When asked by a Cayman immigration officer the purpose of his visit, one excited young man replied: ‘I’m here for the best sea swim in the world! And I’m going to do great!’
For these young, developing athletes, this trip is a huge learning opportunity as well as a reward for all their hard work and dedication. A credit to Surrey Park Swim Club, they were well-mannered, well-spoken, appreciative and serious competitors.
Max Thorn, 17, finished just behind Shaune, 21, and Brett Fraser, 19, third place overall in the Flowers swim. First female finisher, Bethany Robertson, 14, was immediately followed (two seconds) by two of her team-mates: Ruby McDougall, 15 and Cara Davidson, 16. Of the first 20 finishers, 11 were Australian teenagers.
All swim proceeds of over $18,000 went to the Sunrise Adult Learning Centre, which was gratefully accepted by director Roberta Gordon.
The Caledonian Group Summer Splash Meet at the Lions Aquatic Centre put on by Stingray Swim Club offered age-group pool competition, resulting in fun and excitement and camaraderie for both the visitors and local young athletes.
Four records were broken in the Friday evening session, two by Lara Butler (100 metres free + 400mIM), one by visiting Aussie Cara Davidson (200m back) and one by Caymanian Olympian Shaune Fraser (50m fly).
Two of Cayman’s former swimmers recently spent time in Australia, working with coach Kelsheimer. Andrew Mackay and Michael Lockwood coached and trained while there, living with Surrey Park swim families.
Mackay has just completed a masters in accounting at the University of Notre Dame, Lockwood is on a break from law school and working in Cayman.
Since arriving in Australia, Kelsheimer has produced multiple national medallists in the pool and received Coach of the Year honours four separate times since 2003 (once here), along with the double Open Water Championship.
His legacy in Cayman has been admirably continued by coach Dominic Ross.
Cayman families returned the hosting favour, benefitting all the swimmers. The Drummonds, Cleavers, Matthews and McDowall families hosted girls, the Mackays hosted the boys.
Frank and Eve Flowers’ hosted a private lunch in George Town the day before the race, which was exciting for the teenagers. They were interested to meet multiple US and Caribbean Olympians and size up the next day’s impressive competition.
Welcoming gift bags from the Department of Tourism, cases of Flowers water, along with home stays, combined with North Sound snorkel trips, shopping and restaurant meals, sea swim and pool meet, to make for a hectic fun and event filled the four day visit.
Camana Bay also offered support, allowing the visitors to train at their 25 metre pool Saturday morning, then warm-up and warm-down before and after the competition.
The Surrey Park team was thrilled when Olympic champions Neil Walker and Ian Crocker joined them on a Red Sail catamaran trip. That was possible when the Courtis family offered Walker and Crocker a private boat ride back early to make their a late afternoon flight.
Australia has ‘mean cousins’ of our friendly stingrays, making photos of their playing with any stingrays more dramatic, already posted to a blog of the trip; www.caymanusatour09.blogspot.com The blog features Cayman media reports, links and photos that is a great free advertising.
All the work and love of swimming has paid off for these young athletes in the form of travel opportunities.
Several of Cayman’s teenagers headed off to Aland in Europe for Island Games competition, as the Australians were off to Orlando to a meet and training, followed by another Kelsheimer produced camp in Biloxi, Mississippi. Training in New York, then to another pool meet and open water 5K event near Detroit, Michigan, before heading home.
As Australian and Cayman swimmers traded swim caps and e-mail addresses after their final training session here Monday afternoon, it was obvious that these kids that love and excel at open water swimming have much in common, no matter where on the planet they live.
‘Your water and this visit has been better than a dream come true,’ a charming Australian accent was heard to say upon departure.