Caymanian Compass reporter James Whittaker recently participated in the hugely popular Flowers One Mile Sea Swim. Here is his story:
It seemed like a good idea a few days before the race. Swimming on Seven Mile Beach? How hard can it be?
Well, never judge a man till you have swam a mile in his shorts. The Flowers One Mile Sea Swim is no day at the beach.
It’s gruelling, energy sapping and ultimately rewarding, even if all you aspire to do is to complete the course without drowning.
The first sign that things may be a bit trickier than I’d envisioned came before we even got in the water, as sturdy Olympians shared sunscreen and training stories with enthusiastic amateurs on the beach by The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman.
There was enough variety in shapes and sizes of the entrants, though, for me to retain some self belief as the 900 or so swimmers were herded toward the starting line.
The clear turquoise waters for which Seven Mile Beach is so famous were quickly transformed into a sea of orange, green and purple swim-caps bobbing in the surf.
I took a lung full of water and a few feet in the face as the swarm of bodies scrambled for position as the race got under way.
Emerging from the melee, I found myself in the clear, nothing in-front of me but blue water stretching out into infinity. Surely, I couldn’t be in the lead?
I couldn’t. In my efforts to get off to a quick start, I’d forgotten to look exactly where I was going and headed diagonally out to sea.
Rejoining the pack, I attempted to find some rhythm and started to think about closing in on some of the swimmers ahead.
I could see my target in the distance – his white cap visible above the gentle waves. As I closed in, he didn’t seem to be moving very far or very fast at all.
I was almost level with him before I realised it was actually a mooring buoy.
Moving on to human competition, I settled in the slipstream of a small pack on the outer edge of the main group.
With shoulders starting to burn and my stroke faltering, I took a rest, lying on my back and enjoying the scenery for a few seconds respite.
“When will it end?” I heard, from a small voice to my right. It was a boy of around 12, swimming next to me, in need of a breather.
It was a good question. The green markers of the finish line looked deceptively close. There was still plenty to do.
I attempted to offer a few words of encouragement to the boy, then watched as he swam away, leaving me trailing in his wake.
A final push and the finish was in reach. I looked around to see I was among a pack of breast-strokers and doggy paddlers, guessing then that my time would not be good.
Eyes stinging, back aching and my arms flailing randomly, I hauled myself over the line. Encrusted in salt and slightly out of breath, I accepted my medal and my position number – 801 in a time of slightly more than 53 minutes.
I was pretty pleased with the effort, but that says more about the poverty of my ambitions than the nature of the accomplishment.
To put my time in perspective, the winner Joey Pedraza could have swam back to the starting line and completed the race again in the time it took me to do it once. But Pedraza is one of the top open-water swimmers in the world. The furthest I had swam in the last few months was from one end of the bathtub to the other.
He achieved his goal, and so did I. The great thing about this event, with entrants from infant to great-grandparent and the full spectrum of body shapes on display, is that you didn’t have to be an athlete to give it your best shot. You just had to take the plunge.