It was their best yet but like the perfectionists that they are, Frank Flowers and Dara Flowers-Burke are intent on improving on next year’s eponymous one mile swim.
After 19 years of nurturing it from a handful of local enthusiasts to over 800 that include Olympic and world champions, the quest to maintain the momentum continues.
It ran from the Ritz-Carlton to Royal Palms two weeks ago, won by American Chip Peterson in a course record time that earned him a US$5,000 prize. And barely had it finished and plans were in progress for next year’s. Penny Palfrey’s marvellous 68-mile world record swim from Little Cayman to Grand Cayman helped, of course, but now the challenge is to top that. Also, the extensive promotion from open water guru Steve Munatones and Californian champion swimmer Lexie Kelly boosted awareness. All in all, the strategy worked perfectly.
Frank sits in the conference room at his offices on Dump Road glowing with satisfaction as the plaudits continue. “It’s all been good, very positive. Good stuff happening and we’re really appreciative to everyone,” he says.
“The sponsors are saying it was the best ever and thank God we were blessed with perfect conditions. This is the first time in all the years we’ve had gentle, overcast skies. It was basically perfect weather. We had a slight head current that probably took about 30 seconds off maximum off each person’s time.
“Chip is basically the fastest miler in the world. I spoke to his dad and he said he would win this one. He does it for a living now. Eva Fabian (the women’s winner, who was fourth overall) too, she is one of our favourites. She is training for the Olympics and we’re so honoured to have here.”
Next year’s swim is on 9 June and the pair have another stunning event planned on par with Palfrey’s achievement. “There are other things which are geared to bringing sports tourism to the Cayman Islands,” says Frank. “I’ve some things up my sleeve. We just need the community to continue supporting us as they’ve always done and we can make magic happen.
“The people who hadn’t heard about Cayman before, they heard it then through the Palfreys. Penny was talking about her mum living in a little place in Portugal. When she did the record all of a sudden it was on the front page. It’s the awareness it brought to the Cayman Islands. It’s going to make a big difference for the future.”
The Pirates 5k was promoted by the Flowers last year and had a much better turn out than usual. They will know soon if they will be involved again in November’s race. It all hinges on Frank’s cranky knees. “I may have to go in for maintenance, my knees are getting worse. But somehow we will be involved with it but it may not be a direct Flowers Sea Swim.
“We’ll do what we can to help the government and the people. It won’t become an Olympic qualifier this time but eventually we expect it to.
“I must say that the minister of sports, Mark Scotland, is really walking the walk. He is really dedicated and supporting sports in every angle. In fact, all of our elected members.”
The next Flowers swim is only a month before the London Olympics. Dara says: “We’re going to try to promote that theme. A lot of prizes will be Olympic-themed. We’ve just had a wrap up meeting and got a lot of constructive criticism. Although it was the best yet, it doesn’t mean that it cannot continue to get better.
“The worldwide response shows that it is one of the best in the world which we continue to be extremely proud of. Next year we’re looking at increasing it globally to help boost sports tourism. There were a lot of spectators too.”
The fact that Olympic and world champions from previous eras were brought over was a big plus. “They were swimming with our local athletes, mentoring them and inspiring them. Some of them, like Gary Hall Jnr, has 10 medals but he is just a normal guy. I think it is important for our athletes to be mentored by them as much as possible.”
“There is a lot of humour with those people,” adds Frank. “They are all so genuine and sweet and I hope they come back next year.”
Meals on Wheels was the beneficiary charity this year and the sum looks like being over US$30,000. “It’s such a great cause,” says Dara. “We’re just happy to be supportive of it. That’s one of the Flowers Sea Swim is about, giving back to the community.”
Both organisers swam it, as usual. Dara felt impeded though because a man kept zig-zagging in front of her like something out of Finding Nemo. “I don’t think he was doing it deliberately but it definitely held me up. I tend to swim deeper and remember seeing a tiny little starfish looking up and it was as if it was thinking: ‘What’s going on?!’ It reminds me of how beautiful Cayman is. It’s our back yard so we don’t see it. We are so spoilt here.”
Frank finds special praise for the Big Kahuna, the heavyweight comedian who turns out every year and adds plenty of laughs to the occasion. “A lot of people say: ‘If Kahuna can do it, so can I’. He has so much positive energy and goes out there and shows that anything we set our minds to do we can do it.”