Tampa Bay Frogman Swim reaches 10th anniversary

The event has raised $3.5 million for the Navy SEAL Foundation, and has expanded to Boston and San Francisco.

During the 2014 competition, swimmers in the second leg of the 3.1-mile Tampa Bay Frogman Swim take off from Gandy Beach on the Pinellas County side of the bay. [James Borchuck | Florida Beach Insider photo]
During the 2014 competition, swimmers in the second leg of the 3.1-mile Tampa Bay Frogman Swim take off from Gandy Beach on the Pinellas County side of the bay. [James Borchuck | Florida Beach Insider photo]

What started over a cup of coffee at the dawn of the decade has blossomed into a major fundraising effort for Navy SEALs in the Tampa Bay area and now on both U.S. coasts.

In 2010, over a cup of coffee, Terry Tomalin, then the outdoors-fitness editor for what was at the time the St. Petersburg Times, suggested that 17-year-old Sam Farnan accompany him on a swim across Tampa Bay. Farnan was dreaming of becoming a Navy SEAL and had learned that to be a SEAL, you have 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 1996.

As a result, Tomalin, Farnan and Navy SEAL Dan O’Shea created the Tampa Bay Frogman Swim.

Since 2010, the event has raised $3.5 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. Last year’s event also honored Tomalin, who died at 55 in May 2016

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The Navy SEAL Foundation uses the money in five areas: warrior and family support, educational opportunities, tragedy assistance and survivor support, warrior transition, and legacy preservation in partnership with the UDT-SEAL Museum .

Organizers hope the swim will raise $750,000 in this, its tenth year, said former Navy SEAL Rory O’Connor, chairman of the Navy SEALs national Frogman Swim series.

The 175 swimmers are scheduled to set out in the first wave of the 5K swim from Gandy Beach to Picnic Island at 8:20 a.m. on Jan. 13. For more information about the Tampa Bay Frogman Swim, go to TampaBayFrogman.com.

The event has grown so popular, is has expanded across the nation to two of my favorite cities, including my old stomping grounds of Boston, where I was a cub reporter eons ago.

The third annual San Francisco Frogman Swim is scheduled July 14, O’Connor said. Fifty to 60 swimmers are expected to take part in the two-mile swim, which starts at Crissy Field — a former U.S. Army airfield now part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. It ends at Aquatic Park Cove.

Organizers hope to raise between $100,000 to $120,000. The first two San Francisco swims raised a total of about $100,000, said O’Connor.

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Registration for the San Francisco Frogman Swim begins Feb. 4. Go to SanFranciscoFrogman.com for more information.

The first Frogman Swim in Boston is scheduled June 2 with about 50 swimmers trying to raise $75,000 to $100,000 by swimming from Piers Park to the Tea Party Museum and back. Registration for the Boston event begins Jan. 10. Go to BostonFrogman.com for more information.

“We are really getting a nice reception out of Boston,” O’Connor said. “They are very friendly, very enthusiastic people.”

The Frogman Swim organizers are looking for new locations, too, O’Connor said — in Chicago, Annapolis, maybe somewhere in Texas and possibly the Carolinas.

This article was originally published in the Tampa Bay Times on Jan. 8, 2019.

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