They Inspire

‘The Role That I Have Now Is My Way To Serve Out Of Uniform’: How The 5k Frogman Swim Honors Fallen Navy SEALs

Emilee White

Six years ago, Geoff Leard and a group of Navy SEALs traveled to Tampa for a 5k Frogman Swim event and were immediately hooked. From the opening ceremony and the singing of the National Anthem, Leard knew this event was special.

“It was just an amazing tribute to honor the sacrifice that the SEALs have made through service and fighting overseas,” Leard said. “It was amazing to see the tribute, and how that they were paying back, not only to those guys, but also to their families that were there in attendance.”

Before Leard swam his first Frogman, he had a dream to become a Navy SEAL, something he has been passionate about since he was in the second grade. By the time college came and went, Leard’s dream to serve was finally about to come true, or so he thought.

While going through the enlistment process, Leard got turned away for medical reasons and his dreams came crashing down before him. Unfortunately, the bad news just kept coming. A friend of his, who was a Navy SEAL, was tragically killed in a training accident, and Leard took it hard, but it also sparked inspiration.

“In order to kind of stay connected, I was like, ‘I’m going to try and raise some money for his family, raise some money for the Navy SEAL Foundation (NSF), and just do some events on my own,” Leard said. “I started doing some Ironmans and events like that, raised some good money for the foundation … It just allows me to stay connected to a community that I put on such a high pedestal and wanted to be part of … I’ve never served technically in the United States Navy, the role that I have now [ as an ambassador for the NSF] is my way to serve out of uniform.”

After a few years of traveling to Tampa for the Frogman Swim, Leard decided it was time to bring the event to Boston and it was a huge success. Of the 100 swimmers and kayakers who participated in the fourth annual 5k Frogman Swim, two women, like Leard, found their way to honor those who have made the ultimate sacrifice. Here are their stories.

Rena Demeo

As an avid and experienced swimmer, Rena Demeo is always looking for interesting swims to participate in, and that’s when she happily stumbled upon the Frogman Swim. During her research, Demeo realized the event was more than just the swim, and she too was hooked immediately.

Demeo first heard about the event in 2021 and what she learned shocked her completely — she found out that the suicide rate is very high among veterans and she had no idea it was so prevalent. When Demeo started thinking about those who died for her freedom, she knew it was time for her to step up and give back in any way she would.

Rena Demeo
“I didn’t realize that it wasn’t going to be a typical swim event,” Demeo said. “Most swim events have, uh, sponsors and vendors that promote their product, whether it be nutrition, drinks, and things like that. This event was so different. It was so focused on the Navy SEALS and it became clear to me that it was a really emotional and important thing. That’s why I decided to swim this year because I wanted to raise funds for it.”

Initially, Demeo was nervous to talk about her reasons for why she began fundraising for the event because of the taboo stigma of suicide, but that soon became her inspiration to spread awareness and destigmatize mental health issues. Beyond that, Demeo wanted her campaign to not only honor fallen soldiers but also military families because she believes “we become a stronger country when we take care of our military’s mental health.”

A special feature that the Frogman Swim does is each swimmer is paired with a fallen SEAL. This gives all the participants the opportunity to learn more about those who laid down their lives in an effort to keep their memory alive. Although Demeo didn’t swim the event due to medical issues, that didn’t stop her from participating — she treaded water until her wave was finished.

“I [felt] like I would be leaving my soldier hanging by not doing something,” Demeo said. “I [was] really disappointed that I [couldn’t] swim, but at the same time, it’s bigger than that. It’s a beautiful event, and it’s heartbreaking.”

Ashlie Mooney

Like Demeo, the Frogman Swim had a profound effect on Ashlie Mooney.

It all started when Mooney connected with a former SEAL. Prior to her new connection, Mooney trained as a pool swimmer and never considered open water swimming as an option, or at least, not an option for long.

Ashlie Mooney
“We had just been swimming like, casually together just to have somebody to show up with,” Mooney said. “He kind of threw [the event] by me and I said, ‘yeah, let’s do it. Why not?’ And it really kind of opened my eyes to a lot.”

During the beginning of their friendship, Mooney’s friend never really talked about his experiences during active duty, stating that their friendship was based on swimming, not the military. But once Mooney got involved with NSF and Frogman, her friend opened her eyes to how military families are affected by loss and the struggles that veterans who return from service deal with while trying to reintegrate themselves back into society.

With a newfound look, Mooney started doing her own research and was ready to give back, and raise money while doing what she loved. As the event was fast approaching, Mooney found herself paired with retired Navy SEAL Glen Doherty, one of the four Americans killed during the Benghazi attack in 2012, and instantly felt inspired as well as honored to be a part of something greater.

“It’s definitely emotional,” Mooney said. “I [knew] this opening ceremony and everything [was] just going to be amazing and in honor of the people who didn’t make it home. I’m excited and honored to be a part of it and to be able to be there and support the people who are swimming for people that they know and love or knew and loved.”

Photo credits: courtesy of Jordan Samuel/Patrick Quinn-Paquet, Rena Demeo, Ashlie Mooney