Thursday, June 23, 2016

Military and civilian alike, Team Navy takes on the 40th Save The Bay Swim

By Matthew Vieira, Social Media and Marketing Manager

Every year since 1970, swimmers from across the region, and world, gather in Newport to partake in Save The Bay’s iconic 1.7-mile swim to Jamestown. While some travel far, some are already home at the starting line. This team of swimmers are the Navy Newport Swim Team.

Team Navy at the 39th Save The Bay Swim
The Navy Newport Swim Team has been doing the Swim for seven years. The size of the team fluctuates from year to year, but generally consists of about 20 swimmers, with more joining every day, from both military and civilian backgrounds. Four of these swimmers are Navy Reservist Dave Polatty of Narragansett, Retired Chief Petty Officer Dan Force of Portsmouth, Diann Uustal of Jamestown and Lieutenant Aaron Lamay of Newport.

You don't have to be in the military. Anyone who has any affiliation or desire to support Team Navy is welcome to do so. The majority of our team is actually not active duty - only a few people are,” Polatty says. In fact, five close civilian friends approached Polatty him and asked to join the Navy Team just because of their strong connection and love for the U.S. Navy.

Polatty also seeks out strong swimmers. One of those is Diann Uustal, a civilian Team Navy member who holds swimming world records in “every stroke except the breast stroke.” She says she gets it from her grandmother, who would consistently “beat the boys” in open-water swim races. As a young girl, Uustal can remember being pulled around the Bay by a kickboard attached to her grandmother’s waist. She jokes that her grandmother’s swimming genes made it to her. Although Uustal will not be able to get in the water, this year, for her second Swim, because of prior engagements, she will still be integral to Team Navy’s fundraising success as a virtual swimmer, raising donations for Save The Bay and swimming in spirit.

Force, the veteran of the group and a founding member of Team Navy, has crossed the Bay 15 times and the 40th Swim will mark his 16th trip from Newport to Jamestown via the East Passage. He first got involved with the Swim to train for triathlons, until the Navy took him out of Rhode Island. A decade later, he moved back to Rhode Island in 2002, and been doing the Swim ever since.    

While Polatty and Force are not newbies to the Swim, some on the team only recently discovered Save The Bay and the Swim.  Lamay, a two-year Bay Swimmer, got his start with open-water swimming during a mini triathlon on the Navy base in 2013. He and his family became aware of Save The Bay one cold winter weekend when they discovered the Exploration Center & Aquarium in Newport. A few months later, Lamay was swimming in the Navy pool when Polatty approached him with the offer to join the Navy Team. “He sounded like he wasn’t taking no for an answer,” Lamay says. “He’s fast,” Uustal said. Lamay modestly denies that accusation. 

The Swim is not an event to be missed, according to Polatty, who, while stationed in Korea in 2008, did the swim “virtually,” in a small pool at exactly the same time as swimmers back home in Rhode Island (talk about dedication). “This is the one event every year that I truly look forward to...there are other swims, but this is the one that matters,” says Polatty. The Virtual Swim option gives swimmers a way to be connected to the swim and to raise funds to support Save The Bay’s efforts to protect Narragansett Bay, either by swimming somewhere else, at some other time, or from the comforts of home.


But it’s not just about the event, it’s what the event stands for. “Raising money to clean the ocean,” Polatty said. “Most of the Navy Team spends its free time enjoying the Bay, and that is the reason why this swim is so important to us,” Polatty said. Polatty, Uustal and Force can all remember a time when swimming in the Bay was a less than pleasant experience. “It was really disheartening to see the poor conditions around the Bay…I just wanted to do some part in cleaning it up,” says Force.