The normally placid scene of Seven Mile Beach was transformed to a carnival Saturday, when thousands of participants and spectators flooded the area for the 25th edition of the Flowers Sea Swim.
More than 1,000 swimmers took part in the mile-long event, and hundreds of people flooded the beaches to cheer them on and witness history. Twin course records were set, as Jordan Wilimovsky (16:22) and Ashley Twichell (17:41) swam the fastest races in Flowers Sea Swim history.
“I’m stoked,” said Mr. Wilimovsky, a 23-year-old American, moments after emerging from the water following his record-setting swim. “It’s super fun to come out here and do this race every year.”
The course for the swim was flipped on Friday due to concerns about the current. The swimmers made their way from Royal Palms to the Westin Grand Cayman instead of starting out at the Kimpton Seafire, and both winners said the conditions helped propel them to their record-setting times.
“It helps you coming in,” said Mr. Wilimovsky, who also won the Sea Swim in 2015. “The waves are pushing us. My coach was joking that it was kind of like a lazy river. You just kind of take it up the beach.”
“They were definitely helping,” said Ms. Twichell, who also won the 10K event at the U.S. Open Water National Championships in May. “I got out here Thursday and it was really choppy, a little less so yesterday. Today it wasn’t too choppy at all. You had a little bit of wave, but you can work with that.”
The race, which had just 60 swimmers and a narrow strip of beach in its first running, has matured into a full-blown carnival, and the organizers said they were thrilled by its maturation. Frank Flowers Sr., Frank Flowers Jr. and Dara Flowers-Burke all swam on Saturday and finished in the first 400 competitors.
“Youth was in his favor,” said Frank Flowers Sr. about Frank Flowers Jr. edging him to the finish line. “Extremely extra special to have my son and daughter in [the race]. They’ve been supporting me all through the years. Thank God for them and the support of all the sponsors.”
All of the registration proceeds for the race are donated to the Cayman Islands Cancer Society in honor of Frank Sr.’s late wife Eve Flowers, who passed away from acute myeloid leukemia in 2016.
The Flowers family hopes to raise money and awareness about leukemia and ultimately make it possible for more Caribbean citizens to have a donor match should they fall ill.
“It’s special because of the charity this year,” said Mr. Flowers Jr., who was race finisher No. 341, “And finally being able to mobilize some resources into combatting this crisis of blood cancer and especially for people of Caribbean descent. It’s a beautiful cause, a beautiful day, a great race.”
Once the swimmers exited the water, they were greeted by a throng of spectators cheering their efforts. After they received their medals and recorded their race numbers with organizers, they emerged to find a raucous scene, teeming with people partying at the Westin’s oceanside bar.
For Ms. Twichell, 27 years old, it was just her second time on Grand Cayman and her first time competing in the Flowers Sea Swim, but it could be the start of a long-standing tradition.
“I’m really excited. It was my first time doing it,” she said. “I did the Pirates [Week] Festival about five years ago, I think in 2012. When I was here, a lot of people were talking about the Flowers Sea Swim and how great it is. Timing just never really worked out for me. This is the first year it’s worked out.”
Long-distance specialist Chip Peterson, a two-time winner of the Flowers Sea Swim, finished second among the men in Saturday’s event. Mr. Peterson, who is currently in training for a 25K open-water swim, had competed in the Flowers Sea Swim three times previously, and he said he loves the atmosphere in Cayman.
“There can’t be enough said about the Flowers family and how much they care about the people that are here and the people they’re inviting in,” he said on Friday. “This is absolutely the biggest race that I do anywhere in the year. It’s so great to see, especially for such a relatively small island, to see them love something I also love.”