A year ago, Penny Palfrey made waves around the world for her record swim in Cayman. By comparison, her involvement in another historic challenge in 2012 was less high-profile.
Palfrey was one of some 15 past Olympic greats and international swim figures that attended the 20th Flowers Sea Swim. The event took place last Saturday along Seven Mile Beach and drew a record field of 848 swimmers.
The Australian, who famously swam 67.2 miles from Little Cayman to Grand Cayman last year, states she was nervous to compete.
“This year marks my first Flowers swim,” Palfrey said. “In 2011, the doctors said not to swim. Last year I was here to watch and I had a lovely time on the shore. I loved my time in the water this year.
“I was nervous about getting bumps and cuts. I’m preparing to swim from Cuba to Florida this month. That’s a big one because my Cayman swim was about 67 miles while the Cuba trip is 103 miles. I let everyone go ahead from the start. I still came 34th overall.”
Palfrey, 49, took part along with husband Chris Palfrey, who placed first overall last year. For the record, he was 78th this time around in 29 minutes and 52 seconds. Palfrey, who had a time of 26.35, is expected to attempt the Cuba to Florida open water swim shortly. She is slated to start in Havana, manoeuvre through the Florida Straits and finish in Miami. If completed successfully, it would break her record for the longest unassisted open water ocean swim, which she set last year in Cayman.
While Palfrey gears up for a bigger swim, American Ian Crocker figures to be more laidback. The five-time Olympic medallist competed in the Flowers swim for a third time, placing 38th this time around at 26.58.
Crocker, 29, states the swim is more of a reunion than a competition.
“This is my third time here and I was here for the Flowers swim each time,” Crocker said. “It’s so much fun every year. For the Olympians, it’s a reunion of former greats that gives them the competition that they are seeking. It shows who’s training and who’s not. To swim on such beautiful beaches, you can’t beat it.
“The Olympic trials in the US are two weeks away so the majority of those competing this year are resting. That’s why the majority of greats here are former Olympians. The majority do triathlons and they stay in shape for that. I retired after 2008 and I’m not ready to train like that again. I need a little break.”
Crocker and Palfrey would see a number of foreign swimmers grab top spots this year. On the men’s side, Aussie Codie Grimsey was first and the top overall finisher at 18.39. American Yoelvis ‘Joey’ Pedraza of Gainesville, Florida was second in 18.48 while Josh Kercheval of Bloomington, Illinois was third at 20.44. Aussie Luane Rowe was the top lady at 21.17, ahead of Americans Eney Jones at 22.28, Rada Owen at 22.41 and Lexie Kelly at 23.28.
Local government has taken notice of the impact those performances can have on sports tourism. Minister of Sports Mark Scotland states public sector support will continue well into the future.
“The Ministry of Sports is very proud to be part of it and will continue to support it,” Scotland said. “It’s one of the top events on the Cayman sports calendar and around the world.”
Both Palfrey and Crocker are keen to return to Cayman next year and be part of the world’s richest open water swim.
“It’s wonderful and so well-organised,” Palfrey said. “Everyone is so friendly. You can feel the atmosphere, it’s a great time as you meet with swimmers with the local swim clubs and the local guys. If Flowers will have me back, I’ll be back.”
“The fact is it’s so solid every year,” Crocker said. “It keeps getting bigger and bigger and it has the reputation in Cayman and around the world for sure. Swims like that, Olympians want to do them. It’s pretty amazing, it gets Olympians excited and they mark their calendars for the next year. Next year I’m hoping for a better showing.”