Having made a huge success of the annual Flowers Mile Sea Swim, Frank and Dara are focusing on another open water event to help Cayman’s economy and also make it an Olympic event. Ron Shillingford reports.
Cayman’s open water swim reputation is growing exponentially, thanks to the excellent programme here. It really punches above its weight.
That’s why Cayman hopes by next year to host an Olympic 10k open water race, ideally during Pirates Week.
In the meantime, the Pirates Week 5k is getting a welcome boost from the Flowers Group, which organises its One Mile Sea Swim every June, attracting 800-plus in the process.
There are plenty of open water swims throughout Cayman’s calendar but it’s the Flowers version that attracts the most kudos.
Apart from excellent presentation and superb setting along Seven Mile Beach, its prize money and giveaways totalling over US$100,000 makes it extra attractive. It is the richest swim in the world, in fact.
Dara Flowers-Burke and her father Frank Flowers are the architects of this marvellous event and open water swimming fans are pleased to hear that they are now adding their magic to the Pirates Week 5k swim.
It’s on 13 November, starting at 8am in a loop course from Tiki Beach to the Grand Cayman Beach Suites (formerly the Hyatt hotel) Hyatt and back. Entry is $20 and around half the proceeds will go to the Sunrise Adult Training Centre.
There is an alternative course planned for South Sound if the waters are too choppy to ensure the swim does not have to be cancelled.
The duo emphasise that they are not taking over the 5k swim, just energising it a little, injecting some prizes and possibly cash incentives but limiting it to only 100 entrants.
“We’re looking at bringing some international swimmers down, like Eva Fabian, Alex Meyer and Fran Crippen,” says Dara. “Eva and Alex came down for the Flowers swim and Fran heard about how well it went and he now wants to come. We’re not taking over this event, just sort of co-sponsoring it. Bernie Bush (Pirates Week Executive Director) is super excited.”
Pat Bazell-Taylor, who is chief administrative officer on the Pirates Week committee, said: “Bernie is on the Olympic Committee and he is keen for us to host an Olympic 10k next year.
“There are very few places around the world as suitable as here to stage one and I think it is possible.”
The Cayman Islands Amateur Swimming Association has contacted FINA, open water swimming’s world governing body, and to see what criteria needs to be met.
“It would be fantastic if we could get it,” added Bazell-Taylor. “It would really put Cayman on the international map.
“The 5k had fallen off in numbers and it’s great the Flowers Group is getting involved and to secure a 10k as an Olympic qualifier would help with sports tourism. Top swimmers would come here to train more and bring others.”
At the 5k the goodie bags will be more appealing and offer expensive watches as incentives for course records. Prize money may be introduced.
Fabian, 16, is likely to compete for the US at the 2012 London Olympics. Dara said: “She really seemed to love the Island and we are hoping she may be able to fit this event into her training schedule.”
Dara, Frank and Bernie have been talking to Stephen Munatones, the celebrated open water swimming writer, who thought the Flowers swim was one of the best he has been to anywhere in the world, into getting Olympic 10k qualifiers here.
The Pirates 5k has been going for over 30 years, started by Ann Stafford and her husband Peter, who inspired a whole generation into open water swims, including Frank.
Back then the race started from the George Town Harbour and early pioneers are still involved in the swimming scene now, including Jim Fraser (father of Olympians Shaune and Brett), Victor Thompson, Peter Stafford, Shane Foster, Carson Ebanks.
Initial response was encouraging for the Pirates 5k, but huge numbers is not the primary objective. “We want quality, not quantity,” says Frank. “We treat this like a business, building it up from its foundations.”
Main sponsorship is coming from the Department of Tourism and also www.caymanactive.com, the Cayman Islands Amateur Swimming Association, Pirates Week committee and Cayman Airways in some capacity. All in all, it looks like it will make another big Flowers splash and edge closer to that crucial Olympic 10k status.
For more information and to register, go to www.flowersseaswim.com