Olympians storm Flowers swim

The annual Flowers Sea Swim saw yet another terrific day of swimming this month.  

People from all over the country, and around the world, attended the 20th anniversary of the event. All ages, sizes, genders and nationalities came out to support and compete; in fact a record 848 swimmers would storm Grand Cayman’s Seven Mile Beach. 

Among those swimmers were a slew of Olympic athletes who have represented their respective countries over the years. Of the twelve Olympians who attended, Ian Crocker and Janelle Atkinson-Wignall were especially excited to be in attendance, expressing the utmost joy and satisfaction of being on the island. 

“Coming to the sea swim is always a great time, I’m always looking forward to coming back.” Crocker said. 

Atkinson-Wignall had more of the same to say.  

“Man I love this thing!” Atkinson-Wignall said with a laugh. “It’s so hot, but I have so much fun here.”  

The heat wasn’t going to bring down anybody’s spirits at the sea swim, organised once again by father-daughter duo Frank Flowers and Dara Flowers Burke. For 2012, the swim would be dominated by Australians at the podium as Codie Grimsey was the overall winner in 18 minutes and 39 seconds while countrywoman and San Francisco-based Luane Rowe was the first woman home in 21.17. Interestingly, Geoffrey Butler was the first local swimmer home, placing fourth in 21.10. 

Crocker has had an illustrious career: winning medals, breaking records, travelling the world and meeting famous people wherever he goes. He’s a decorated Olympian who has competed in three Games (2000, 2004 and 2008) but despite his amazing accomplishments, he holds the Flowers Sea Swim to a high regard.  

“I love the sea swim, man. It’s such a great thing to be a part of. I get to hang out with a lot of the swimmers I’ve met and competed against or with over the years and I get to spend a week in a beautiful place.” 

Crocker, based out of Austin, Texas, currently lives in Portland, Maine and has taken a different approach to life after his retirement from the professional level. He’s a more relaxed, laid-back family man who now runs swimming clinics all over the United States, even opening the Ian Crocker Swim School in Austin and Dallas, Texas.  

He spends his years teaching and coaching youngsters in the sport he’s had a passion for over his whole life and career. Crocker says that these days, he’s having just as much fun.  

“When I was competing, it was all about the pool and getting your rest. I’ve been all over the world but I’ve never actually experienced countries. This time around when I go to a new place, or re-visit an old one, I have my own time, I can go out and actually be a tourist and look around the country.”  

Crocker said most of his time, while he was competing, was spent either in the pool or the hotel room. He was always training and putting in hours of hard work, which of course paid off. His hard work and determination has amounted to a series of victories, winning a total of twenty-one medals in major international competition: fourteen gold, six silver and one bronze spanning the Olympics, the World, and the Pan Pacific Championships.  

But, as he said, being able to enjoy the countries sights, sounds and smells is just as rewarding.  

“I love being able to relax nowadays, doing things like fishing, getting into the ocean water and just floating around enjoying the company I have and enjoying Cayman, it’s a great place to be.” 

Atkinson-Wignall feels the same way about her time away from competing.  

“It’s really nice to be able to relax. Competing at that level takes such a physical toll on your body and after having surgery on both my knees it’s nice being able to get into the water and just relax.”  

After Atkinson retired from competing, she transitioned into coaching young swimmers. She now coaches the swim team at the University of Connecticut and says that she loves what she’s doing.  

“Man, it’s going great over there. I love helping people improve and watching them grow into terrific swimmers. It’s so fun and I’m learning just as much as I’m teaching.”  

Atkinson’s swim team is doing very well, finishing fifth at the Big East swim championships in February and improving ever still. Her goals these days, however, have changed. While she was competing, every day was about training hard and getting better and beating the competition. These days however, it’s a much more laid-back and general approach.  

“Growing up, I looked up to international superstars, there were no real swimming success stories coming out of the Caribbean until I enjoyed some. So my aims these days are just to be a local role model for these Caribbean kids, they all want to look up to someone and if they see that one of them has made it, a person who came from the same background as them, it gives them a lot more motivation.”  

Atkinson is a native of Kingston, Jamaica and won the Jamaican Swimmer of the Year award seven consecutive times from 1997-2004, which consequently cemented her position as a role model, as well as an inspiration for kids all over the Caribbean.  

The Flowers Sea Swim was, yet again, a great success that enjoyed valiant volunteer efforts from the likes of Dominic Ross as an announcer and Peter MacKay as race director. Crocker and Atkinson-Wignall could not say enough how enjoyable their stay was and how much they look forward to returning in the years to come.  

Other Olympians in attendance, such as Scott Goldblatt, shared the same good vibes as his two Olympian counterparts.  

“Man I’m just in awe every time I come down here,” said Goldblatt, a silver and gold medallist as a member of the US relay team. “It’s an amazing place and I can never say no when I get invited to the sea swim. It’s something I’m definitely going to be a part of for years to come.” 

The Olympians’ experience in Cayman was one to remember. The Flowers Sea Swim will enjoy the company of Olympian participants for years to come and, based on this year’s success, will only continue to grow 
in numbers. 

FSS olympians profile

The Flowers swim attracted many swim greats, from left, Gary Hall Senior, Yoelvis Pedraza, Heather Roffey, Darren Mew, Scott Goldblatt, Kaitlin Sandeno, Janelle Atkinson-Wignall, BJ Bedford, Paolo Cerizzi, Rada Owen, Penny Palfrey, Ian Crocker, Chris Palfrey, Gay Hall Jr, Codie Grimsey, Eney Jones. – PHOTOS: MATTHEW YATES