Local swim teams and coaches were given the opportunity to meet and greet the Flowers Sea Swim Olympian participants on the eve of the big event at the Westin Hotel. World renowned swimmers such as Ian Crocker, Scott Goldblatt, Heather Roffey, Kaitlin Sandeno and Janelle Atkinson-Wignall attended the event on Friday 8 June, much to the delight of aspiring local swimmers and avid fans. The other celebrity swimmers were Barbara Jane ‘BJ’ Bedford, Paolo Cerizzi, Codie Grimsey, Gary Hall Jr, Gary Hall Sr, Darren Mew, Steven Munatones, Rada Owen, Chris and Penny Palfrey.
It was organised by Frank Flowers and daughter Dara Flowers-Burke who ensured that everything went smoothly. Palfrey is not an Olympian but she is globally renowned for her many ultra-distance swims, including last year’s world record endeavour when she swam the 67.5 miles from Little Cayman to Grand Cayman, which took just under 41 hours.
About 50 people showed up to the private event and not for a second leaving any of the Olympians alone. Autographs were being signed, stories being shared, kids gathering around each Olympian soaking in every possible piece of advice or anecdote that was shared with them last Friday.
Janelle Atkinson-Wignall, a native of Kingston, Jamaica and a two-time Olympian, said that coming to the sea swim is one of her favourite things to do. “I love coming here, it’s a charity event and it’s always a lot of fun. It’s good to be here,” said Atkinson. “It’s nice to be a local role model.
“Growing up all we had were international superstars, but now I can be a role model from the Caribbean and that should give local kids a lot of motivation.”
Atkinson-Wignall is now retired from international competition and coaches the swim team at the University of Connecticut, a position she loves.
“I love doing what I’m doing now, it’s going so well and I love being involved with competitive swimming. But coming to the sea swim and competing here is definitely a highlight. I love doing this and meeting the kids and spending time here. It’s really something I enjoy.”
Successful Olympian Ian Crocker was also happy to be a part of this year’s sea swim. “The sea swim is great, last year I kind of swam it as a slalom, you know like zigzagging my way to the finish line, so this year I’m hoping to swim straight,” he joked. “But I love coming here, and hopefully this year I swim a little faster.”
Crocker is a three time Olympian, winning three golds, a silver and bronze. He has met the likes of Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Michael Phelps and other renowned names and he has broken world records. But, surprisingly enough, he states that the Flowers Sea Swim is one of the highlights of his illustrious career.
“I put my college swimming years at the top, then breaking the 100m butterfly world record, then the Flowers Sea Swim as third. I love coming here to do this, spending time in Cayman, meeting new people, reuniting with some of my old team-mates and competitors, experiencing the beautiful islands, it’s just a really great opportunity.” This was Crocker’s second year and he managed to up his finish by 11 places, finishing 38th this time around.
Meeting the Olympian swimmers was one who was just as enthusiastic and shared the same passion for swimming – little Zachary Moore, 10 years old and a member of the Camana Bay Swim Team, was more than excited to be meeting greats like Crocker.
“I’m really excited,” he shyly stated. “I love meeting all the swimmers and I’m really looking forward to swimming in the sea swim against them.”
As soon as he finished speaking, Moore walked over to Atkinson-Wignall and completed his rounds by having her be the last one to sign his swim cap.
The meet and greet was a huge success. Despite the heat and the masses of people, fun was had by all. Children and adults alike all enjoyed cold refreshments, interesting stories and meeting those who they have watched swim on television for years.
It is almost needless to say that the Flowers Sea Swim had yet another successful year – it’s twentieth – and all the Olympic competitors are looking forward to attending again next year.