The IGY6; Shark Swim Event

Updated: Mar 18

This was the very first IGY6; event under our new leadership structure and with a new vision for helping our veteran and first responder community. The IGY6; Foundation's new board members were voted in as follows: President of The IGY6; Foundation James Urban, Founder of The IGY6; Foundation and Vice-President Andy Velez, Karla Fuentes Business Outreach Director, and Danielle Urban Chief Financial Officer. James and Andy kept the original primary mission to help veterans that are struggling with depression and in need of support. However, The board members sat down dug deeper to define the ways in which they have found peace and growth in their own individual journeys and how it can help struggling veterans. "Through my turmoiled history with substance abuse, alienation from family, and depression I often contemplated suicide as an answer to end my mental health struggles." James says.

"When I needed to escape the war in my mind, I could completely lose myself by seeking an adventure that would light something within my mind soul."

So, for James and Andy's first event working together, they chose to incorporate their love for the outdoors, adventures, and veterans. We had no idea what to expect doing an event like this and if this was even going to be feasible. Taking seven veterans swimming with sharks was just an idea... a crazy idea at that, but if we could pull it off, it would most definitely make a splash (no pun intended) in the veteran community.

Will this event be a therapeutic approach to helping with veterans mental health?

An event like Shark Swimming certainly sounded fun and exciting but the question on everyone's mind was, "Will it serve its purpose and act as a holistic approach to treating depression and anxiety within our community?" I think we got that answer and more. The takeaways from this event were astounding and will act as the mold for how we will operate for many events to come. We will continue to add to our winning formula as The IGY6; Foundation matures through experience and knowledge.

"Beards For The Brave"

The IGY6; Foundation found a sponsor for our first event through the fundraising efforts of Just 1 Outreach & Beard Mobb Florida: Beards For The Brave event. "As a person that was unfamiliar with the beard community, and beard competitions, this was an interesting fundraising event to get my feet wet with The IGY6; Foundation." James says. We had no idea the amazing turnout and success we would have with this event, but it became the nucleus for everything great that would come in the next couple of months. The next step was planning an event that would help heal our community of veterans and first responders. But what??

Planning Our First Adventure

The IGY6; Foundation wanted to make our first event a BIG one, but we were left bouncing ideas off of each other for what seemed like months. "We wanted to incorporate the things that helped us in our own personal journeys and through our own struggles." James goes on to say, "I always knew that when I needed to escape the war in my mind, I could completely lose myself by seeking an adventure that would light something within my soul."

While sitting out on the lake one night, drifting in and out of thoughts, "It came to me like a bolt of lightening... Shark Swimming!" James recounts. James grabbed the phone and called Andy to get his opinion on creating a shark swimming event for veterans. "Sure... let's do it..." in Andy's very quiet calming voice.

"I thought Andy was going to tell me I was "completely nuts" and that we should go back to the drawing board."- Urban

"I was so excited and relieved when he told me that he liked the idea and wanted to start researching and planning the event." James confesses. The pair wasn't even sure if anyone even offered such an experience. We have all seen it on Shark Week, but what was the possibility of seven veterans actually getting out there in the open ocean to swim with sharks with no experience? Actually...surprisingly easy thanks to Calypso Dive Charters.

We can't send them home hungry...

The next part of this event building process was figuring t that our attendees will need to eat after a day of swimming with sharks. So we added a crucial element to our event that would become known as, The IGY6; Family Feast. The IGY6; Foundation

didn't want this to be an "Eat-n-Run" we wanted this to be a moment to incorporate our families and give them an opportunity to take part of our festivities and share the joy and comradery of our organization. We wanted to give our members a feeling of a family reunion... because that is exactly what we are... #family. So we settled on Rafiki Tiki in Riviera Beach, FL. We were beyond pleased with the outcome, but more on that later.

The Selection Process

Members were joining The IGY6; Foundation every day, however a few members had really stood out and were pouring their hearts and souls into our mission. These individuals believed in our experimental and holistic approach to veteran therapy. These members were helping our foundation grow by spreading our message, and being a positive influence amongst their fellow members of The IGY6; Foundation.

Left to right: Pres. James Urban, Ashley Roberts, Founder Andy Velez, Jason Franklin, Alonzo Cruz, Taylor Garcia, Dan Povey

From All Corners

Our IGY6; Members come from all over the United States and are now in 5 countries. The IGY6; Foundation did not want this event to become a financial burden on our members or just another added stressor. We wanted this event to be therapeutic and a total release of the mind. It is hard to completely let go and immerse yourself in your environment and commit to healing when your worried about outside forces like finances and travel plans.

The IGY6; Foundation received a donation from an individual donor named Christina Franklin, that helped us offer free lodging and airline flights for members flying from out of state and traveling from out of town.

This has become a major facet to the way we operate our events. Handling our members travel from all over the United States is a difficult task and one that we leave to the professionals. The IGY6; Foundation has partnered with Pine to Palm Travel Agency to help our members get to and from our events hassle free and cost efficiently for The IGY6; Foundation. Special Thanks to Jenn Henke of @pinetopalmtravel on Instagram. Be sure to check out Pine to Palm Travel on your next vacation to receive hassle free, organized, and precise travel plans at an affordable rate.

The Night Before

The Friday night before an event feels like being seven years old on Christmas eve. The anticipation for Saturdays event was filled with so many emotions, from excitement to fear. All of the shark swimming attendees were invited for a "Meet & Greet" at Jonathan Dickinson State Park.

Our members had already known each other from being apart of our Members Only Chat app, so seeing them meet was like watching long lost brothers and sisters separated at birth and coming together for the first time. Seeing everyone smiling and enjoying each others company and sharing stories was a much needed moment for everyone that attended. This was not a planned occasion, it was something that was thrown together at the last minute but will remain a staple for our upcoming events.

"Nothing is more humbling to your ego than being in open ocean with an 8 foot shark circling you for an hour."- Urban

Shark Swimming

Saturday morning finally arrived! As we made our way to Riviera Beach to meet our fellow shark swimmers, and suddenly the reality of the situation had finally set it.... "We are about to swim with a shark😬." The amount of planning and fundraising that goes into creating one of these events is extremely time consuming and can absorb all of your thoughts. So, the day of the event felt like the first time that we actually had a chance to think about the physical act of being in the ocean with sharks.

After taking all of our group photos with our sponsorship banner, we made our way to the dock to get fitted for fins, a wet suit, and to sign our lives away on waiver forms. I want to take a moment to explain that shark swimming is a relatively safe activity, however it should not be attempted without an expert with proper knowledge in the water with you. Calypso Dive Charters did an amazing job at making our members feel safe and were very knowledgeable about the sharks we would encounter. Our veterans and first responders boarded the boat, and in 45 short minutes we would find ourselves in the ocean with sharks.

Wrap up

The IGY6; Foundation wanted these events to be more than just an exciting outing. We wanted these events to test our members level of fear, and explore the depths of their inner comfort zones... however, we also wanted it to be an awakening of their inner spirit and a chance to completely immerse themselves in an adventure curated for a higher purpose. Nothing is more humbling to your ego than being in an open ocean while an 8 foot shark circles you for an hour. Our members were taught to remain calm despite the fear of the unknown and not let their emotions dictate their level of self-control. Our members had to demonstrate relaxation in an otherwise compromising environment with an unpredictable predator. When we are removed from our comfort zones and tossed into a world unfamiliar to us, there is level of humility and vulnerability that will occur; but in that humility is self-discovery and and in that vulnerability is strength.

IGY6; Family Feast

Our post adventure Family Feast was at Rafiki Tiki. What more can we say about this location, food, and service!? Everything was so delicious and the amazing support that the owners had for our organization and IGY6; members was incredible.

Although the IGY6; Foundation board members felt like we could have done so much more on our end to make this event even more welcoming and fun for all in attendance. So we sat down and addressed some takeaways from the days events and we look forward to improving our operations for our upcoming events. We look forward to seeing you all at the next event so you can experience the holistic therapy of an IGY6; Adventure.

Purchase our Aquanaut shirt inspired by our Shark Swim event today!

Check out our official event video below!

Special Thanks To Our Event Sponsors:

Just 1 Person Can- Outreach organization to help non-profits raise funds.