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Tampa Bay Frogman Swim: A Whim Becomes A Huge Success... 4 Years In A Row!

Tampa Bay Frogman Swim

The Frogman Swim Supports the SEALs

January 31, 2013

At 67 degrees in the water, the fourth annual Tampa Bay Frogman Swim was the warmest yet - but still a challenge for the 150 swimmers who completed the 3.1-mile cold-water swim on January 13, 2013.

This year's swim has raised approximately $235,000 for the Navy SEAL Foundation (and you can still donate via the Frogman website). In the last three years, the event has raised nearly $500,000 for the foundation, in addition to more than $30,000 raised the first year for injured SEAL Dan Cnossen.

A Whim

The Frogman event began with a high school student who dreamed of becoming a SEAL. In talking with his mentor (a former SEAL), he conceived of a long-distance January swim to challenge himself and get a glimpse of what a SEAL faces in training. Within a few weeks, the swim had morphed into a fundraiser for Cnossen, who had lost both legs in Afghanistan. (Four years and several surgeries later, Cnossen is doing well. He recently won silver in the biathlon event at the International Paralympic Committee Nordic Skiing World Cup.)

The first swim for Cnossen was so successful that the participants saw an opportunity to create an annual fundraiser to support the Naval Special Warfare community, including injured soldiers and the families left by those we lose every year. And thus, an annual event was born.


2013 Tampa Bay Frogman

Fifteen-year-old Becca Mann - who competed at the 2012 Olympic trials -  won this year's Frogman in 56:48.1. She was quickly followed by 16-year-old Caleb Hudak (56:50.9) and three-time Olympic champion Brooke Bennett (56:55.0).

Mann was awarded the John Doolittle award - named for the Swimmer Crosses Finishformer SEAL who completed the first Frogman in a speedo in water temps of less than 60 degress. "Becca has such a great spirit. She must refuse any personal sponsorship offerings in order to maintain her NCAA eligibility status - and she regularly asks those potential sponsors to send money to the Navy SEAL Foundation," says Rory O'Connor, Frogman Race Director and Ambassador to the Navy SEAL Foundation.

The Norm Ott Service Award - also named for a former SEAL - goes to a volunteer or participant who contributes much to the organization of the race. This year's Norm Ott award went to Dr. Glenn Paige. "He travels from North Carolina to swim, and he always comes early to help us. Last year, he arranged for 3M to donate some medical equipment we needed, and he raised more than $7,000 personally," says O'Connor.

The Dan Cnossen award always goes to the swimmer who personifies the spirit of the event. This year's Cnossen award went to Mark Dobersch, who finished the swim in just over 2 hours. "Mark has been wheelchair bound all his life," O'Connor says. And really that is all one needs to know to understand how Dobersch personifies the spirit of the swim.

And this event is so much more than a swim or a fundraiser. The Frogman began with an early morning ceremony where the names of the 10 SEALs lost in 2012 were read aloud. Navy cadets raised flags for each of the eight Naval Special Warfare soldiers and two veterans.

Cadet Ceremony"From every volunteer to swimmer it's obvious that all involved are at the event for those injured and fallen SEALs and their families," says Bret Skonicki, vice president of products, marketing and sales support with MarineMax. Skonicki volunteers year-round to help organize the event and was giving out medals on the beach this year. "Everyone has their own personal reasons as to why it touches them emotionally and spiritually, but at the core, everyone is volunteering or swimming for those brave men that have served and their families."

Skonicki watched his own 22-year-old son Adam finish the race this year. "As Adam was sprinting to the finish I couldn't help but get a little emotional as I hugged him and gave him a high-5," Skonicki says.

At least one other father-son duo had a special finish at this year's race too. According to Skonicki, "As one swimmer approached the finish line, one of the people in the kayak accompanying him dove from the kayak into the water. It turned out that the kayaker, who has special needs, was the son of the swimmer. The boy swam the last 30 yards with his father, who was chanting the boy's name and cheering him on as they ran across the finish line together." Skonicki adds, "I'm amazed at the passion and drive of each swimmer, and this fundraiser has done so well largely because the swimmers ask everyone they know to contribute even $5, $10, $20.  It all adds up. These donations can take some of the stress off a wife or child of a SEAL, and that is amazing. The funds support funeral costs, help with medical costs for injured SEALs and help to provide for the education of SEALs' children or spouses."


Helping Hands

Kayaker"The volunteers make this a great event," O'Connor says. "We're thrilled to have so many people involved for the right reasons. Everything just works more smoothly, and we have more fun." He notes that MarineMax volunteers help with everything from planning and logistics to manning the boats and picking up swimmers who are unable to finish. (Although all of the swimmers finished this year!)

"Nearly 40 people from our corporate office and Clearwater store volunteered this year," Skonicki says. "Despite the early morning start times (many of us were up at 4:30 a.m.), the event is more rewarding than we can possibly express.  A good indicator of this is the number of returning volunteers from last year! We have amazing people that work in our company and I'm truly blessed and humbled to be associated with all of them and am so proud to represent MarineMax as a senior leader at this event."


Want to be Involved in the 2014 Tampa Bay Frogman?

The next Tampa Bay Frogman will take place in January 2014. If you want to sign up for information so you can swim, provide kayak assistance, volunteer or donate, subscribe to the group's email newsletter. You can also get more information and see pictures from this year's event on Facebook.