It was a chilly January morning in The Tampa Bay Metro area. The air temperature was about 54° as the sun was starting to rise over the Bay and the water temperature was just above 60°. Most people wouldn’t even dream of sticking a toe in the water, but on Gandy Beach, 150 men and women had donned wetsuits and were getting set to dive in for a very good cause! It was the 6th annual Tampa Bay Frogman Swim, a charity fundraising event that benefits The Navy SEAL Foundation. This charity has a four-star rating by Charity Navigator and has been certified by Charities of America as a “Best in America” Charity. The Navy SEAL Foundation supports SEALs and their families.
According to the Frogman web page, tampabayfrogman.com, this event began in 2010 when Commander Dan O’Shea, USNR, had an idea to turn an annual swim organized by Tampa Bay Watch into a fundraiser for a SEAL who had been injured in Afghanistan. After a successful event in which 40 swimmers completed the race and raised thousands of dollars for the SEAL, Rory O’Connor took over the direction of the event. He, along with Kurt Ott of Venetian Isles, son of SEAL Norm Ott; Doug Santo, a SEAL veteran; Terry Tomalin and several other volunteers organized a follow-up event in 2011. This race was also a success, this time benefitting The Navy SEAL Foundation. The event is a sanctioned event by the U.S. Masters Swimming and USA Swimming, and has grown each year both in participants and in funds raised.
Kurt Ott was attracted to the event because of his SEAL connection through his dad and also because he is an endurance athlete. In late 2009, he had heard about some SEALs putting a swim together. The first year he got involved by providing boat support for the swimmers. After that, he got together with the others and worked to make this an annual event. He said they cap the event at 175 swimmers in order to keep it safe and manageable. Now efforts focus on the fundraising portion of the event. They hope to continue increasing the amount of donations to give to the SEAL foundation each year. Kurt said there has been more than $1,000,000 raised over the course of the event so far! Raising the public awareness of the event will certainly help with this effort. He also said they are always looking for more local sponsorship.
Jen Rhyner, a swim participant from, says the families of Special Ops members don’t know where their loved one is or when they will come home. She would know. Jen trained as an EOD technician candidate and was a rescue swimmer when health issues forced her to obtain a medical discharge in 2008. “The job can require the ultimate sacrifice, but it is worth it because it’s for the greater good and our country,” Jen says. “The Navy SEAL Foundation is a priceless community that understands and supports these families.” This was Jen’s first year as a participant in the swim. She was challenged to do the swim after last year’s event. She participated with friends who all work together at St. Pete Bicycle & Fitness, some as swimmers and some as kayakers. The swim is slated as a 3.1 mile open-water swim in the chilly bay waters from Gandy Beach to Picnic Island, but that doesn’t include adjustments for the current. The race can end up being a bit longer. The swimmers must have a kayaker as a partner to help them stay on course. She partnered with Tim Robinson and they developed a non-verbal communication plan that helped her stay on course. He had water and nutrition on board for her, which she credits for helping her to finish the swim. She drew her strength, she said, from seeing handicapped swimmers participating and from the fact that this was supporting such a great cause. Each participant was given a lanyard with a picture and information about a fallen SEAL. Jen’s lanyard SEAL was a 26-year-old who pulled a teammate out of the line of fire in 2006 and saved him by coming out of cover.
This year over $200,000 has already been raised and more donations are still coming in. If you would like to donate visit www.imathlete.com/donate. If you are interested in becoming a local sponsor please visit www.tampabayfrogman.com/sponsors