For a more visual look at this year's edition, check out our Flowers Sea Swim Photo Gallery
Column by Nathan Jendrick
When it comes to creating an open water race, you could only dream about a package that includes magnificent white sand, boundlessly clear, blue water, superb weather, friendly faces everywhere you turn, and an organizational team so efficient their talents rival that of any event, anywhere. For the Flowers Sea Swim, this dream is a reality, and their annual event–having just completed its 21st year–is, like a fine wine, only getting better with age. If you haven't heard of it–or participated in it–you're missing out on a lifetime experience.
The Flowers Sea Swim, as their website states, “is Grand Cayman's flagship sporting event,” but it is so much more than just another open water swim, albeit one in the gorgeous Caribbean. The draw is officially the one-mile race along the world famous Seven Mile Beach, but the reality is that there is something far more special that surrounds this event. There is goodwill, positive energy, fellowship amongst athletes and participants, and in its own way it does what we so often wish sport could do: it transcends athletics and makes real, lasting differences in people's lives. The swim, you see, is more than just a flagship event for this island, it's a charitable staple.
All proceeds–every penny–are donated.
As Frank Flowers, the affable founder of the event told me prior to the start of this year's race, “To me, it isn't a charity unless every penny goes to those who need it.” And that seems to be the Cayman way: Help. Give. Care. These are defining facets surrounding an open water race that somehow manages to make the race itself take a backseat to the principles of humanity and philanthropy.
Flowers and his company put considerable resources into making this event world-class. Not because they have to but only because they want to. Because there's a sense of duty among the Flowers family and their volunteers that draws them to spend the majority of every year, for more than two decades now, organizing and conducting an event that not only derives them zero income, but surely costs them a massive sum. Those of us in the swimming community tend to pride ourselves on the quality of people in our sport, and you can find no better example of the attributes we hold so dearly than those exuded so incredibly by the Flowers family and all those who support this event throughout the Cayman Islands and the world.
The race annually sells out its cap of 950 participants and it draws people from all over the world and through all walks of life. This year, swimmers as young as 8-years-old participated alongside American Olympians such as the legendary father-son duo, Dr. Gary Hall and Gary Hall Jr., as well as Brooke Bennett, Rebecca Soni, Megan Jendrick, Kristy Kowal, Ian Crocker, Rada Owen, Scott Goldblatt and London 2012 open water silver medalist Haley Anderson.
Additionally amongst them were Cayman's own Olympic heroes Brett Fraser, Shaune Fraser, Andrew Mackay and Heather Roffey, Britain Olympian Darren Mew, Canadian Olympian Zsofi Balazs, marathon swimmer extraordinaire Penny Palfrey, US National Team members Jordan Wilimovsky and Joey Pedraza (this year's winner), and Paralympic champion Jessica Long.
Yes, the list of notable entries is long, but that just speaks to the caliber of event this swim is. And this year, to grow what has already been an immaculate event for many, many years, 5K and 10K races were added to the schedule. Those swims, like the mile, placed enthusiasts and Olympians alike together in the captivating blue waters for two more stand-out contests. These races all showcase human performance in open water, yes, but most importantly they benefit people who are truly in need.
Now, this column is in no way trying to compare the Flowers Sea Swim to the quality of any other event out there in the world. There are wonderful races taking place in every corner of the globe, to be sure. But in a world of media that too often tends to focus on problems and salacious headlines, it just feels good to gush about something as wonderful as this charitable event. Walking away from this year's Sea Swim, which took place June 15, was like leaving behind an old friend. That's how quick this island, and this event, hooks you. You finish the race and wish you could start again. But instead, you must look forward to next year's race and spend the down time training and telling your friends how proud you are to have participated.
This year, the One Mile race was won by Pedraza in 16:52.4, a new course record, barely touching out Wilimovsky by four-tenths. Zsofi Balazs turned in the top women's time at 17:49.9, which was also fifth overall. The 5K went to Scott Simmer (1:01.07) with Haley Anderson third overall and the top woman (1:02.10). The 10K finished with the same 1-2 as the mile, Pedraza followed by Wilimovsky both with 2:02.2's, with Balazs again the top woman (2:05.38).
In all, the event was hugely successful, spreading good cheer over the span of three events that provided incredible competition in an amazing location, all for a vastly worthy cause. This year the charity the Sea Swim benefitted was Feed Our Future, an association whose “primary mission is to solve childhood hunger and to support intellectual nourishment in the Cayman Islands.”
I'll swim to that.
Next year, I hope you will, too.