Dan Simonelli, Now a Hall of Famer, Continues to Inspire Open Water Swimming World

Photo Courtesy: Dan Simonelli

Dan Simonelli found his calling in the open ocean.

He build up his stamina, along with his love for the water and did some pioneering open water swims.

But when he was at his highest, life, like an ocean wave, sent things crashing back down as Simonelli was diagnosed with cancer twice.

The water is still his sanctuary, but as he is undergoing treatment and recovering from brain surgery, the California native is helping others reach their goals in the water, keeping his passion going strong.

“I just forced myself to swim. It kept me alive. It kept me out of the dark. I swim often but not swimming long,” Dan Simonelli told Swimming World. “After brain surgery, I am recovering from that and got on a maintenence treatment that I have been on since with monthly infusions. There are ups and downs but I force myself to take care of business and keep on rocking. I want to get back in the water because it always feels better.”

He wants others to feel that as well. He has supported more than 250 open water swims to Catalina Island.

This weekend, he was elected into the International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame as an Honor Coach.

“I started offering to people to support them swimming around Coronado. A lot of swimmers started coming out of the woodwork in COVID. I started picking it up with that swim and making it into an Marathon Swimmers Federation ratified event. It is 11.5 miles but it is more forgiving with the bay. It is about a 5.5 hour swim. It is a good first big swim for people,” Simonelli said. “I was already in me. It is an awesome experience to support someone in a kayak or whatever. Once I started coaching and getting more involved, it is a really amazing experience to support somebody and have them reach their goal. Early on I realized how to treat the individual individually. Everybody is different and I wanted to be the best coach or support person I could be. I couldn’t really continue on with my own swimming in that way, so it allowed me to really delve deeper into being the best support person I could for people.”

Photo Courtesy: Dan Simonelli

Simonelli started Open Water Swim Academy in 2013, beginning small.

“I saw the desire of people to get the ocean and open water experience. It started with almost being a tour guide around La Jolla cove. My comfortability with the ocean helped others to delve into it,” he said. “I always expect that people can do more than they think they can. So I push to that realm of possibility. It started with myself and the curiosity of how far you can go and how you train for that.


Finding the passion

Dan Simonelli grew up in Stockton, California, and was a swimmer growing up. He then became a lifeguard and joined the Marines.

“I really got into ocean swimming when I was in the Marine Corps and started doing triathlons. I was an ocean lifeguard for a few years. But then school, work, two daughters. I was out of the water for quite a few years,” Simonelli said. “In 2009, my oldest daughter started doing junior lifeguards and it motivated me to get back in the water. A neighbor mentioned he swam for the La Jolla cove and wanted to see if I would be on a 10 mile relay. I did it and haven’t stopped. It really got my juices flowing.”

His first solo swim was that same La Jolla 10 mile race before moving on to Catalina, the English Channel and a four-day SCAR swim on the lakes in Arizona (Seguaro, Canyon, Apache and Roosevelt).

Simonelli did the swim to Catalina Island in 2015 and the English Channel swim in 2016. He did a swim in the Channel Islands off the coast of Santa Barbara as well in 2017.

The setback

Dan Simonelli was diagnosed with melanoma in 2018.

“I found a bump in my leg. They biopsied it and it was melanoma. I had it all over. They gave me a 30-40% chance. That threw me for a loop. I started treatment and was on a targeted chemo. That knocked it down. I did that for a couple years. Scans were good. I decided to get

Photo Courtesy: Dan Simonelli

off the chemo. I was feeling good,” he said.

But things came to a halt again.

“I was getting my quarterly scans and something came up in 2021. I had to get an MRI and I had something in my brain. I had brain surgery.


Helping others

After brain surgery, Simonelli has been relegated to helping support swims either in a kayak or a boat, but that hasn’t stopped his passion.

“It allowed me to give people a sense of the pontential that people could grasp on to. That has really satisfied me in a lot of ways,” Dan Simonelli said. “It is odd to think of myself as as support person because I still think of myself as a swimmer first. That has been my driving force.”


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