Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Tampa Bay Frogman Swim raises funds, awareness of fallen SEALs

Just 63 minutes after jumping into the water at Gandy Beach, Sean Doolittle, 14, emerged 3.1 miles east on Picnic Island.

He was the first of some 175 swimmers to reach the finish line in the eighth annual Tampa Bay Frogman Swim.

"The current was a little strong," said Doolittle, an eight-grader at St. Paul Catholic School in St. Petersburg. "But I kept my focus on the Gold Star families who we came out to support, and I was able to finish."

For the Doolittles, the swim was a family affair. About an hour after the first Doolittle made it out of the water, his father, Navy Capt. John Doolittle, made it across Old Tampa Bay. His other children, Meg, 9, and Ryan, 12, served as volunteers while his wife, Katie, was a timekeeper.

Capt. Doolittle was swimming on behalf of Nick Spehar, a Navy SEAL who was one of 30 U.S. service members killed on Aug. 6, 2011, when their helicopter was shot down by the Taliban in Afghanistan.

The event honors those who lost their lives in combat or in training. Of those killed on the helicopter, there were seven families in attendance.

"It was a true honor," said Capt. Doolittle, who runs the Preservation of the Force and Family resilience program at U.S. Special Operations Command, whose headquarters are at MacDill Air Force Base. "I got to meet the family at a dinner last night. It means a lot for me to be able to come out here and take part in this swim."

• • •

The first streaks of daylight etched across a cloudy horizon as Cecil Johnson stood in the shallow surf of Gandy Beach and readied his kayak.

Johnson, 48, of Tampa was paddling to support his wife, Joanne Johnson, 31, who was getting ready for her first Frogman Swim.

On Aug. 6, 2011, the couple, Air Force officers at the time, were deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan.

Cecil Johnson was at Balad Air Base in Iraq. Joanne Johnson was in Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan.

"I saw it on screen as it was happening and the recovery," Cecil Johnson said of the helicopter shoot-down, the worst single loss of live in the history of SOCom.

"It was very emotional," said Joanne Johnson, who didn't see the incident but experienced the aftermath while stationed in Afghanistan.

An experienced triathlete, Joanne Johnson works at SOCom in the acquisition department.

"I wanted to do something that was more than me just being tired at the end," she said of her reason to take part in an event that has raised more than $2 million over the years for the Navy SEAL Foundation.

• • •

Just before the horn sounded for the first of seven waves of swimmers and kayakers to hit the water, race director Rory O'Connor bounced around the sand, taking care of last-minute details.

Of the many important issues for the day, one thing he wanted to make clear, and a point taken up by everyone who talked about the swim, was the aura of sadness hanging over an otherwise near-perfect day.

"We do this with heavy hearts," said O'Connor., a former Navy SEAL. "We really miss Terry."

O'Connor was referring to Terry Tomalin, the late Tampa Bay Times outdoors editor who along with former SEAL Dan O'Shea and high school student Sam Farnan started the race in 2010 as a way to raise money for Navy SEAL Lt. Dan Cnossen, who lost both legs above his knee in 2009 after he stepped on an improvised explosive device.

What started as a hastily created swim has turned into a well-organized event that has become one of the world's best open water charity swims, thanks in no small part to the energy and enthusiasm displayed by Tomalin. He was 55 when he died in May.

• • •

His wet suit still dripping, John Doolittle hugged his family and, like so many others, paid tribute to Tomalin as well as the Gold Star families.

"My good friend Terry Tomalin was a key piece of this swim," said Capt. Doolittle, who spends his days making sure commandos and their families get the mental, physical and spiritual help they need. "He was a force of nature."

Contact Howard Altman at haltman@tampabay.com or (813) 225-3112. Follow @haltman.

Tampa Bay Frogman Swim raises funds, awareness of fallen SEALs 01/15/17 [Last modified: Monday, January 16, 2017 10:16am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. YouTube's Minecraft sensation Dan TDM brings live show to Clearwater

    Events

    Dan Middleton's YouTube channel has had more than 10 billion views since 2012.

    Dan Middleton's Dan TDM live tour is set to stop in Clearwater on Sunday. [Photo by Emily Herogian]
  2. Lightning's Mathieu Joseph on the rise at development camp

    Blogs

    BRANDON — The last 12 months have been quite the ride for Mathieu Joseph.

    Mathieu Joseph checks Carolina's Jake Bean during a preseason game in September in Tampa.
  3. Pinellas legislators talk governor's race, policy at delegation breakfast

    Blogs

    If anybody was expecting state Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, to quit being coy and and announce his bid for the 2018 governor's race to the friendly crowd at Clearwater Regional Chamber of Commerce's annual legislative delegation breakfast Wednesday, they left disappointed.

  4. DOT shows alternatives to former Tampa Bay Express toll lanes

    Transportation

    TAMPA — State transportation officials are evaluating at least a half-dozen alternatives to the controversial Tampa Bay interstate plan that they will workshop with the community for the next 18 months.

    Florida Department of Transportation consultant Brad Flom explains potential alternatives to adding toll lanes to Interstate 275 during a meeting Wednesday at DOT's Tampa office. Flom presented seven diagrams, all of which swapped toll lanes for transit, such as light rail or express bus, in the I-275 corridor from downtown Tampa to Bearss Ave. [CAITLIN JOHNSTON | Times]
  5. Florida Orchestra and Tampa Bay Master Chorale scrap search for a joint conductor

    Stage

    TAMPA — After a yearlong effort, the Master Chorale of Tampa Bay and the Florida Orchestra have abandoned their search for a conductor capable of leading both groups.

    Doreen Rao conducts a concert with the Buffalo Philharmonic Chorus and Orchestra in December 2010. Photo by Enid Bloch.