Credit Terry Tomalin, the late, great Tampa Bay Times outdoor writer.
In 2010, over a cup of coffee, Tomalin, the outdoors-fitness editor for then- St. Petersburg Times, suggested that a 17-year-old named Sam Farnan accompany him on a swim across Tampa Bay. Farnan was dreaming of becoming a Navy SEAL and it was explained that to be a SEAL, you had to do a lot of swimming, often in cold water.
Tomalin and some friends at Clearwater Beach Safety had made the crossing several times in fall of 1996.
As a result, Tomalin, Farnan and a Navy SEAL named Dan O’Shea created an amazing event called the Tampa Bay Frogman Swim.
Since 2010, it has raised more than $3 million for the Navy SEAL Foundation, a charity that provides immediate and ongoing support and assistance to the Naval Special Warfare community and its families.
This year’s swim, the ninth annual, is expected to raise more than $600,000, said race director Kurt Ott, son of former Navy SEAL and CIA case officer Norm Ott. The 175 swimmers set out in the first wave of the 5K swim from Gandy Beach to Picnic Island at 8 a.m. Sunday, Jan 21.
In addition, there will be 185 kayakers accompanying the swimmers along the way and dozens of other volunteers.
O’Shea recalled how nine years ago this month, more than 100 swimmers, kayakers and volunteers staged the first Tampa Bay Frogman Swim.
The 2010 swim raised $33,000 for wounded Navy SEAL Dan Cnossen, O’Shea said.
"Every year since, the Tampa Bay Frogman Swim has grown in leaps and bounds with swimmers across the country scrambling to get a coveted slot when registration opens on the August 6th anniversary of Extortion 17."
The anniversary marks the Aug. 6, 2011, Taliban shoot-down of a twin-engine CH-47 Chinook helicopter with the call sign Extortion 17. All 38 on board were killed, including members of the SEAL team as well as naval special warfare operators, Army flight crewmen, Air Force personnel, Afghan soldiers, an Afghan interpreter and a U.S. military working dog.
On average, each swimmer raised more than $2,000 in honor of a fallen Navy SEAL O’Shea said. Last year, one swimmer raised $40,000 in donations.
The event pays special homage to those who have made the ultimate sacrifice.
This year, Ott said, the audience will include 14 Gold Star families, those who lost a loved one to military service.
The morning ceremony honors the fallen as a Navy officer reads the names of all SEALs, Navy Special Warfare operators and support personnel killed in action or in training since the terrorist attacks of 9/11.
In addition, Ott said, there will be a moment of silence at the start to honor of Tomalin, who died at 55 in May 2016. This year, the moment of silence also will be honor Sean Gucken, a long-time staff member who died this year.
The event has plenty of participants and volunteers this year, but could use more corporate sponsors, Ott said. For more information, go to www.tampabayfrogman.com.
The Pentagon announced no new deaths last week in ongoing operations.
There have been 2,347 U.S. troop deaths in support of Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan; 49 U.S. troop deaths and one civilian Department of Defense employee death in support of the followup, Operation Freedom’s Sentinel in Afghanistan; 43 troop deaths and two civilian deaths in support of Operation Inherent Resolve, the fight against the Islamic State; one troop death in support of Operation Odyssey Lightning, the fight against Islamic State in Libya; one death classified as other contingency operations in the global war on terrorism; and four deaths in ongoing operations in Africa where, if they have a title, officials will not divulge it.
Contact Howard Altman at [email protected] or (813) 225-3112. Follow @haltman