Team Semper Fi Takes On the Most Unique Swimming Event in the World
Take six athletes and ask them to swim relay-style from Nevada to California, more than 11 miles in 58-degree water at an elevation of 6,200 feet.
That’s the Trans-Tahoe Relay, a race across Lake Tahoe that’s been held each year since 1976. It’s one of the most unique swimming events in the world, and on July 20, 2019, one of the most unique teams the Trans-Tahoe has ever seen took to the water.
“I’ve been a competitive open water swimmer in the Bay Area for over 40 years and have been doing this event since 1980,” said Sean Kelly, a Marine, the son of a Marine and a well-known Semper Fi Fund Community Athlete. “When they decided to make it an official Team Semper Fi event, I was asked to be the Captain and Coach for the team. Talk about a dream assignment!"
“From the beginning the response from the athletes was super enthusiastic,” Sean continued. “They were excited about being part of the team and excited about taking on this swimming challenge with fellow veterans.”
The six-person team for the 2019 Trans-Tahoe Relay included Marine Staff Sgt. Travis Noel, Marine Staff Sgt. Dean Zenoni, Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class John Pulido, Marine Staff Sgt. Mark Zambon, Marine Sgt. Scott Ostrom and Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class Edna Dumas. “The first time we all were able to swim together was in Tahoe two days before the event,” Sean noted. “I will say: I was relieved to actually see them all swimming in Tahoe looking strong and prepared!”
The Relay itself began with each member of the team swimming for 30 minutes. After that, team members switched off and swam in 10-minute increments. It was perhaps appropriate that it was Edna – who traveled all the way from Puerto Rico to participate in the Relay – was the swimmer to cross the finish line, bringing Team Semper Fi to the wire at an official time of 5 hours, 49 minutes and 21 seconds. As she ran up the beach to the official finish line, she was met by her entire family from Puerto Rico!
The members of Team Semper Fi who took to the water at the 2019 Trans-Tahoe were six of the more than 2,200 servicemen and women who have overcome significant challenges resulting from their service to our country – such as life-changing injuries, traumatic brain injury, post-traumatic stress or critical illness – and have embraced the fighting, athletic spirit on their road to recovery.
“When I get to go to events with like-minded combat vets that struggle with the same issues I do and we can bond, laugh and be ourselves, knowing we're not being judged or looked at differently, it means the world to me and is therapeutic beyond understanding,” said Staff Sgt. Noel.
“I see the Semper Fi Fund – and Team Semper Fi – as an entirely selfless and wholly committed entity on the recovery path,” said Staff Sgt. Zambon, a double amputee whose athletic accomplishments include reaching the summit of Mt. Kiliminjaro (read Mark’s Hero Story here). “Semper Fi Fund is a powerful force.”
“I’ll carry so many great memories from the 2019 Trans-Tahoe with me for the rest of my life,” said Sean. “The spontaneous standing ovation received by the team when introduced at the Captain's meeting on Friday night, realizing after our swimmers made it through their first 30-minute rounds that there were lots of teams behind us and that we were definitely going to finish under the six-hour cutoff, how the two swimmers that were most nervous about the swim came through with flying colors and Mark being carried across the finish line in the arms of two fellow Marines.
“Above all, it was another great opportunity to meet and directly work with veterans supported by the Semper Fi Fund and to see firsthand how Fund donations are put to good use.”