The Flowers Sea Swim is only a few weeks away and the build up this year is unique because a world renowned marathon swimmer is going to attempt to set a unique world record that will attract headlines around the world.
Bridging the Cayman Islands involves first swimming the five-mile channel from Cayman Brac to Little Cayman on 6 June, then a 68-mile historic attempt to swim between Little Cayman and Grand Cayman from 9-11 June before the Flowers Sea Swim on 18 June.
Penny Palfrey will attempt to make history again, adding the inter-island event to her awesome list of ultra-distance swimming accomplishments.
Inducted into the International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame, she is a world record holder and pioneer in long-distance swimming. Her experience and knowledge of the sport will be essential for this swim which could take up to 40 hours.
It is organised by Frank Flowers and his daughter Dara Flowers-Burke with substantial help from Steve Munatones, an open water expert who swims, coaches, writes and collates stats on the sport for a living.
Munatones actually set the record between Brac and Little Cayman last month with Californian Lexie Kelly and they both swam the Brac 800 metres the next day. Kelly stayed on to be a coordinator for the Flowers Group to ensure Australian Palfrey’s endeavours and the world renowned Flowers Sea Swim – the sport’s richest event with over $100,000 in prizes – goes as smoothly as possible.
Munatones said: “Penny is – of course this is my biased opinion – the greatest adventurer in modern times. When she does a swim it is unprecedented and she is not using or wearing anything to help her, such as a parka to go up the Himalayas or a dog sled to cross the North Pole.
“She is simply in a bathing suit, goggles and a cap. That’s it. Penny just looks at a globe and picks some very difficult places. She literally swims through sharks and gets attacked by hundreds of jellyfish. She doesn’t complain, just puts her head down and goes, stroke by stroke.
“There is nothing special physically about Penny except her mind.
“Once she jumps in she is not getting out until she gets to the other side or she is pulled out. I think she is the greatest adventurer in modern times. She will not get out before completing unless nature prevents her from doing so.
“Just because she gets stung once, she is not getting out because it is going to take her 40 hours.”
That is not to say that she should breeze through this latest challenge. It is extremely tough. She will only break every half hour for a maximum of 8-10 seconds otherwise the swim cannot be ratified. Munatones will tell her basic information during that tiny break.
All this came about because last year Palfrey was planning swims in Hawaii and California and asked Munatones where could be her next challenge.
At the time Munatones was in touch with Frank Flowers about promoting sea swims in Cayman. That’s when Munatones hit on the idea of swimming from Little Cayman to Grand Cayman. Once sponsorship and schedule was organised, everything went into motion to make it happen. “This world record will instil a sense of pride in the nation and put Cayman on the map in the sports world,” said Munatones. “People who vacation here obviously know where the Cayman Islands are but not necessarily those living in Asia.
“When you have events like this, you get media outlets like CNN and Associated Press who will create a graphic and pinpoint exactly where this 48-year-old grandmother of four is achieving this feat.
“Penny’s attitude is that just because she is a grandmother she is not knitting at home. She has a very interesting outlook which is very appropriate for modern times.
In the Western world, there is this attitude that women who were great athletes or even Olympic level aged over 40 rarely have opportunities to do sports after their secondary years, although men do.
“What Penny has proven which is typical of women born in the 40s, 50s and 60s, is that even though their children are grown up and they may have gone back to the workplace, a lot of them want to also be physically fit.
“They want something more in life. People like Penny want to go back to when they were 20 and really good but did not have the opportunity to do things like the English Channel, or run a marathon.
“Our sport has seen the greatest demographic growth in women between 40 and 60 who had to suppress their own athletic desires.
“This is Penny’s underlying message and she can’t wait too much longer to do these massive swims.”
When Munatones asked Palfrey how she can stay up two days straight, she simply answered that she has given birth to three children! “As a man I’m supposed to understand that.
“But it’s not just giving birth, she has had to stay up for 36 or 48 hours with her children when they’re sick or injured, or whatever.
Many women around the world can relate to that and even if they haven’t done that they forego eating, sleeping and their own desires for their children. Now it is her time.”