Records broken at Jimi Flowers Classic

By Annemarie Blanco | June 07, 2015, 5:36 p.m. (ET)

Tucker Dupree

Tucker Dupree, pictured above, was one of more than a dozen athletes to break American records this weekend. 

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. - Nestled in the left corner of the Olympic Training Center’s aquatic center in Colorado Springs, a red board full of inspirational quotes titled ‘Jimi’s Corner’ stands high on the wall. From Michael Jordan to Vince Lombardi, the memento is just one of the many ways the legacy of Jimi Flowers continues to live on six years after his passing. Flowers, former USOC coach and mentor, was known for sharing a new uplifting saying with his athletes each day before his passing in 2009.

This weekend in particular, his presence was unmistakable.  For the sixth year in a row, family, friends and swimmers from all skill levels gathered to compete and honor the former U.S. Paralympics swimming coach at the Jimi Flowers Classic. The meet raises scholarship money for Flowers’ two children, Sam and Lauren, as well as giving an outlet for new athletes to swim alongside Paralympic medalists.

For Flowers’ wife, the collection of people coming together to remember her late husband still brings tears to her eyes.

“It’s an incredible way to honor him and honor what he believed in, which was reaching out to all those new swimmers that were trying the sport and encourage them,” said Sue Flowers. “The fact that it has grown and several countries are participating and it is worldwide now; it’s pretty overwhelming what it has turned into. I can’t even explain what it means to my kids and to me. We really look forward to it every year.”

Competitive juices were in the air as the meet featured Paralympic swimmers from national teams around the globe, with Mexico and Brazil showing a large turnout before the upcoming world championship and Parapan American Games. Both American and world records were broken over the course of the two day competition including Kayla Wheeler (Lynnwood, Washington) who broke the world record for 100-meter breaststroke finishing in 4:43.14 and Hannah Aspden (Raleigh, North Carolina) whose 2:36.39 200 backstroke performance set a new American record. Another Raleigh native, Tucker Dupree, also broke an American record with a 35.20 50 breaststroke finish.

“I just felt like I should swim all out,” said Connor Giofredda, who broke the American record in the 400 individual medley, American record for the 200 butterfly and world record in the 1500 freestyle.  “I’ve got the competition right now and I should see if I can beat them.”

Flowers’ son, Sam, knows the increased level of competition over the last few years would have made his father proud.

“I’ve had a few people say to me, ‘I broke my record. I took 50 seconds off my time; I took 30 seconds off my time,’” said Sam Flowers with a smile.  “That’s what my dad would have wanted. He was trying to inspire people to say that you wanted to get that time in, you wanted to get a gold medal and maybe even be in the Paralympics one day.”

In his long tenure with the U.S. Olympic Committee, Flowers influenced hundreds of swimmers including U.S. Paralympian Tom Miazga (Cedarburg, Wisconsin), who credits his former coach for much of his success over the last decade.

“I was only three years back into competitive swimming when I made Beijing in 2008 and he was a guiding force beyond my coach and family back home,” said Miazga. “It was such a shock when we lost him, but it’s nice to know that as we get caught up in our daily training, our work and jobs, to come back out here and realize that we had someone like Jimmy on our sides no matter what, all the time and we still do. That’s the best thing. His spirit lives on through all of us.”

Walking around the aquatic center it’s clear that Flowers’ guidance and loving spirit will never be forgotten.