BRISTOL — “We live in the land of the free and the home of the brave, because of the brave,” said Phil Taub who, with his wife, Julie, founded Swim With A Mission last year to raise money for causes that help veterans.
The event on Saturday, which featured at least a half-dozen Navy SEALS arriving in Blackhawk helicopters and Humvees to demonstrate their skills while helping veterans, drew more than 2,000 people to Wellington State Park on the shores of Newfound Lake in Alexandria.
The Taubs said they created the event as a fundraiser after they became aware of the poor treatment that many veterans were receiving.
“They needed help,” Phil Taub said.
Leaning on their passions for swimming and lake living, the Taubs scheduled an early morning swimming competition and added veterans to the mix and, from that, Swim With A Mission was born.
The first Swim With A Mission last year raised $371,000 through various channels, giving the Taubs the impetus to do it again.
Hundreds of swimmers — spotted by volunteers in kayaks — participated in 1k, 5k, and 10k individual races, as well as a 10k relay on Saturday.
Much of the day involved displays put on by the elite fighting unit known as the Navy SEALS.
Two VIP sessions were well-attended, and many of the spectators listened for 45 minutes as SEALS explained who they were and described some of their experiences.
Jason Kuhn, who spent eight years as a SEAL, said that many of the things he learned in that unit are applicable to civilian life, including “selflessness” and “self-awareness.” He also said that training was the key to making the SEALS one of the most feared military groups in the world. They were given so much to fear — and conquer — during that training, Kuhn explained, that it allowed them to maintain their composure in battle.
The SEALS in attendance demonstrated their expertise by staging mock battles, both amphibious and land-based.
Kuhn's story resonated with Marisa Moorhouse, Miss America New Hampshire and a student at Southern New Hampshire University, who hopes to be a military pilot.
“I feel honored to be here,” she said. "This is a great way to raise money to help veterans.”
Many veterans appreciated the day and shared it with their families. Retired Col. Hunt Kerrigan and his wife, Lt. Col. Stephanie Kerrigan, of Durham, brought their two sons to the event.
“I am very impressed,” Kerrigan said, praising the Taubs for creating it. “This shows great love and support.”
Son Jonathan, 8, showed he understood what the event was about when he said, “We are raising money for people who really need it.”
Taylor Hough, 15, of Laconia, participated in the swim both this year and last, and placed second overall in the 2018 5k.
“I really enjoy this event,” said the Northfield Mount Hermon School student who also hopes to join the military later in life, following in the footsteps of her grandfather. “This is a good thing,” she said.
More than 250 volunteers and vendors showed up early and began setting up their booths and locations for the day among the pine forest.
There was food by the Common Man, Sub Zero Nitrogen Ice Cream, face-painting and a variety of military-oriented information kiosks.
When everything was ready, the public arrived by foot, boat, bicycle and auto. Many were bused from satellite locations that eventually swelled the numbers in the park and, for a few hours, came close to doubling nearby Bristol’s 3,000 permanent population.
Kyle Bostock of Manchester, who attended last year's event, noticed the difference. “The scale is so much bigger this year,” he said.
So did co-founder Phil Taub, who noted after a series of emotional presentations, “Last year we raised $371,000 for deserving veteran’s organizations; this year we hope to more than double that.”