In the swim of things

Cayman’s two great resources are its crystal clear waters and white sand beaches. Bring these into a sporting event and you have a winner on your hands.

No event has done this with more success than the Flowers one-mile Sea Swim, which over the years has attracted everyone from Olympic champions to first time open water swimmers. It is a rare event that can bring people together in such numbers, but the Flowers event has been doing so for 19 years.

The man behind the event, Frank Flowers, took up swimming when his knees would no longer allow him to run and he hasn’t looked back since. Along the way, he created an event of international renown, often held up as an example of community sport.

Bridging the Islands

This year, the Flowers Sea Swim will be preceded by the greatest endurance swim ever attempted in the Cayman Islands, as world-renowned ultra distance swimmer Penny Palfrey takes on Bridging the Islands. The challenge will see her swim from Grand Cayman to Cayman Brac, touching Little Cayman on the way, to link the three islands together in a way never attempted before. The challenge before her is immense, with some 80 miles of swimming to be completed.

Penny certainly has the experience to take up the challenge, as she is an inductee into the International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame, as well as a world record holder and a pioneer of long-distance swimming. However, this certainly does not mean that the event will be a walk in the park for Penny, with the swim expected to take her between 30 and 40 hours to complete, depending on conditions.

Penny’s list of accomplishments indicates that she is the best qualified swimmer in the world for this epic swim – she was the first person to swim from Santa Barbara Island to Point Vincente on the Los Angeles coast and the first woman to swim the Alenuihaha Channel from Hawaii (Big Island) to Maui. She has also completed marathon swims in various other parts of the world, including Gibraltar, New Zealand and Tampa to name but a few.

Palfrey will set off from East End to Little Cayman, but will be swimming without the protection of a shark cage, instead relying on a sonic wave shark repellent for protection. She will be accompanied not only by a safety and support crew on a following boat, but also by crew members in the water on kayaks to keep an eye on her progress.

The swim is planned for 9 June, although the date will remain flexible in order to allow for weather conditions.

The sponsors for Bridging the Islands are Cayman Airways, Sunshine Suites Resort, the Cayman Islands Department of Tourism, the Ministry of Health, Environment, Youth, Sports & Culture, Red Sail Sports, Esso, Flowers Group, the Caymanian Compass and Digicel.

Flowers Sea Swim

Penny will also take part in the Flowers One Mile Sea Swim, which will certainly feel like a minor challenge indeed after her exhausting journey to Cayman Brac.

The Flowers One Mile Sea Swim is certainly an endurance challenge for more average folks, but is an achievable target with a little bit of training. Of course this means that it helps keep the community fit and healthy, but it also benefits a different charity each year, with Meals on Wheels Cayman Islands being the chosen beneficiary this year.

The event will start at The Ritz-Carlton Grand Cayman, and finish at either Tiki Beach or Royal Palms, depending on the weather conditions and direction of the current, with the location of the finishing line being decided in the week before the event.

The event is set to take place on 18 June, and although that might still seem quite far in the future, the event drew in excess of 700 participants in 2010, and with the field limited to 800 entries, the event could well reach capacity well before the 15 June cut-off date for entries.

One of the most impressive elements of the event, apart from the very large field and variety of swimming abilities represented, is the range and number of random prizes available. In fact, one in every five participants is guaranteed to win a prize. And these aren’t just any old prizes – flights, phones and jewellery. This year’s travel prizes will include airline tickets to Los Angeles, London, Toronto, Rio de Janeiro, Germany, and Australia plus a Caribbean Cruise. So a one mile swim can literally take you half way around the globe.

Prospective participants can register online through caymanboxoffice.com, which accepts payment through PayPal, Cayman-based debit cards or international credit cards.

The event will once again feature the popular ‘walk and watch’ event as well for those who are not keen on taking part in the swim but would like to watch the swimmers along the route and not miss out on the excitement of the day, with many random draw prizes on offer for the walkers as well. The first 150 walkers to check in on race day will also receive a t-shirt and a US$20 voucher for Cayman Airways. Not a bad deal for an entry fee of CI$15 or US$20. 

For more information, visit flowersseaswim.com

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Photos Ron Shillingford