Allison Schmitt is not afraid to get out of her lane for a good cause.
Ms. Schmitt, an eight-time Olympic medalist but an open-water novice, was one of several prominent swimmers who participated in Saturday’s Flowers Sea Swim in Grand Cayman.
The 26-year-old, a four-time gold medalist, said she had previously competed in just one open-water swim and failed to finish, but she planned to compete in both Saturday’s mile swim and Monday’s 5K event.
“It will be different,” she said Friday. “I’ve never been to the Cayman Islands, but it’s beautiful and the people have been great. I’m excited to swim in the ocean and see the life that’s in the water. I’m very interested in that, but a little bit of it is nerve-wracking, because I’m like, ‘What if I see something?’”
Ms. Schmitt, a three-time Olympian, served as one of three co-captains for the United States women’s team at the 2016 Summer Olympics, and she said it’s too soon to know if she will compete in 2020.
Right now, her focus is on getting a master’s degree in social work. Ms. Schmitt wants to go into counseling for mental health and depression after she retires from swimming, but she’s banking on her arduous training history to get her through the pair of Flowers Sea Swim events.
“Hopefully, I’ve swam so many practices in my life that it won’t be too difficult,” said Ms. Schmitt, who has specialized in the 100 and 200-meter freestyle during her eventful career. “I’m in there for the fun of it, and to see the other swimmers compete. It’s a great cause and I’m excited to be part of it.”
Another former Olympian, Megan Jendrick of the United States, was thrilled to be back in the Cayman Islands. Ms. Jendrick, a two-time gold medalist and former world record-holder, said she has competed in the Flowers Sea Swim four times previously, and she was excited to be swimming in both the mile and Monday’s 5K event.
“I don’t know if there’s a better place in the world to do an open-water swim with such crystal-clear water. And all for a good cause,” she said Friday. “I did the inaugural year of the 5K five years ago, and I’ve done it every year. That’s a long way for me to go, because my main event was the 100 meters.”
Ms. Jendrick, 33 years old, now works as an aquatics director and loves teaching young children how to swim. She said she does not get into the pool as much as she’d like to any more, but she knows enough about the Flowers Sea Swim to provide some advice for Ms. Schmitt in her first crack at it.
“Allison Schmitt, it’s her first year here, and she was asking me for pointers,” said Ms. Jendrick of her fellow gold medal-winner. “I said, ‘For the mile, you’ve got to race for the first 30 seconds and break away from all the elbows and the feet. And then just cruise and have fun and enjoy yourself.’”
The race probably came easiest for Penny Palfrey, who set a world record in 2011 when she swam for more than 40 hours uninterrupted from Little Cayman to Grand Cayman. Ms. Palfrey, making her fourth appearance in the Flowers Sea Swim, reflected on her record-setting achievement on Friday.
“It was extremely hard work, 40 hours and 41 minutes,” she said of her 67-mile swim between islands. “It’s wonderful to be in the heat, but all day in the sun and exposure took a lot out of me. When I finished at East End, there were so many people who came out to cheer for me. I was late, because we encountered some current that we didn’t expect, but they stayed into the night and cheered me in.”
Ms. Palfrey’s record for the longest unassisted solo ocean swim was subsequently broken, and she later took a shot at making the swim from Cuba to the United States. Nowadays, the 54-year-old is training for a triathlon, and she said she has no intention of going back to Little Cayman to reset her record.
“That’s what records are for,” she said of seeing it broken. “Once is enough for that one.”
Ms. Palfrey and her husband Chris competed for Australia in the aquathlon – a long-distance event that combines running and swimming – in the world championships last year and are going to compete again in Penticton, Canada in August. Both Palfreys finished in the top four of their age groups last year.
Now, after taking four flights to arrive in Grand Cayman from their home in Australia, they are happy to be swimming in both the mile event and Monday’s 5K event of the Flowers Sea Swim.
“Distance isn’t always important,” said Ms. Palfrey. “It’s such a beautiful place with such friendly people. Mr. Flowers and his family make us very welcome. We’re always delighted to come back.”