All of the best swimmers at the Flowers Sea Swim raved about Cayman.
The swim, which celebrated its 20th year over the weekend, saw 848 competitors storm Seven Mile Beach, a new event record. Most swimmers came from abroad as the one-mile challenge saw the top three finishers originate from Australia and the US.
Luane Rowe, 23, was the first lady home in 21 minutes and 17 seconds, good enough for sixth overall. The Aussie states the swim provided solid competition.
“This is my first time here and I wanted to do it,” Rowe said. “I had a great opportunity to do it and I enjoyed the swim. Cayman swimmers have a great reputation and I knew the start would be tough.
“I put my head down and got a lead, breaking away from the pack. With a swim like that, there are different ways to do it and the race has different strategies. I just wanted to get out front and stay with the boys.”
Rowe would not be far off the pace of Codie Grimsey, Yoelvis ‘Joey’ Pedraza, Josh Kercheval, Geoffrey Butler and Alex McCallum. Grimsey, of Australia, was the overall winner at 18.39s; Americans Pedraza and Kercheval (who is from Bloomington, Illinois) were not far off the pace in 18.48 and 20.44 respectively. Butler and McCallum, established junior swimmers in Cayman, had solid times of 21.10 and 21.11, respectively.
Pedraza, 24, came down from Gainesville, Florida and boasts a notable link to Cayman through local Olympic brothers Brett and Shaune Fraser.
“I was born in Cuba and I’m coming from the University of Florida,” Pedraza said. “I’m training for the open water trials in two weeks for London. I have a chance to qualify for the Olympics as I’m ranked in the top 10 in the country. The top four in the country go to the world championships and one of my goals is to be tops in the world.
“This was my first time and I was invited two days before the event. I was focusing on pool trials for weeks when the invite came from Frank Flowers. After some training, I stopped here for this open water event. I had a good time, I love the Island. It was awesome and an honour to be here.
“This is my fifth year at Florida and I’m taking a year for Olympic training. I swim with Shaune and Brett at Florida. I actually stayed with their dad, Jim Fraser, for the weekend before I left Sunday morning.”
For 2012, the Flowers swim incorporated an Olympic theme, with the London Games starting in about a month’s time. Some 15 past Olympic greats and international swim figures showed up in Jamaican Janelle Atkinson-Wignall, Brit Darren Mew, Australian couple Chris and Penny Palfrey, Americans BJ Bedford, Ian Crocker, Rada Owen, Scott Goldblatt, Steve Munatones, Gary Hall Junior and Senior, Kaitlin Sandeno, Italian Paolo Cerizzi and Cayman’s own Heather Roffey.
Interestingly, only one of them would be among the top four on the ladies’ side, which was dominated by Americans. Eney Jones was second at 22.28, Owen was third at 22.41 and Lexie Kelly was fourth at 23.28.
Kelly, 26, is originally from California and was part of the organizing committee for last year’s Flowers swim. She found competing in the swim to be a new challenge.
“This is my first time participating and it’s a totally different perspective seeing it on this side as a competitor,” Kelly said. “I was 13th overall. Out there you get kicked and scratched but it’s all fun. It’s a good atmosphere, you got people that just want to do it for fun and those that want to race.
“It’s an absolutely great event for everyone. Next year I’ll do it and it’ll be great seeing families, Olympians and all comers.”
Most of the visiting swimmers expressed a desire to come back next year. Most want to experience Cayman’s natural beauty again and enjoy the spoils of the world’s richest open water swim with over $100,000 in prizes.
Some, like Rowe, see it as a chance to cement their legacy here.
“I’ve been doing open water swims from when I was 12. My passion is swimming, it’s exciting. I finished college in Australia in 2011. I’m originally from Sydney but I live now in San Francisco, to work for the FINIS swim company as an industrial designer. The company actually donated random prizes for the Flowers swim, like a Global Positioning System specifically designed for open water swimmers.
“I want to come back next year. I’ll be trying to get a lot of US swimmers down here. It’s great what gets put into the swim, everyone is so nice and friendly and so many good swimmers want to come out.”
While organizers Frank Flowers and daughter Dara Flowers Burke deserve much of the credit, many entities are behind their efforts. Among them is the Cayman Islands Amateur Swimming Association, the local governing body. At the helm of it is Peter MacKay, who has served as the swim’s race director for years.
MacKay spoke about the swim’s impact on Cayman.
“I thought the swim went very well,” MacKay said. “There was actually 839 swimmers counted into, and out of, the water. This swim keeps getting bigger and bigger, even though we restrict the number of entrants. Everyone I talked to was very happy with it and thanked us for putting it on.
“Having Paolo Cerizzi going for a Guinness Book of Records swim added a wrinkle but all went well. The association is very proud to be associated with such a great event. The swim is very important to the association as it highlights Cayman as an open water swimming destination.
“With all the Olympians coming down, word gets out in the swim community that Cayman is a great place to visit and enjoy a swim in which you have a one-in-four chance of winning a great prize. Over 200 people from overseas came down to swim in it, along with families in some cases.
“This highlights sports tourism as an area we should focus on, which I know the government is focusing on.
The association is working to bring Cayman an open water swimming event through the Fédération Internationale de Natation, which will also bring down many excellent open water swimmers and again will highlight Cayman. We are trying to ascertain the cost of putting it on before making a definitive decision.”