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Shaun Tomson Organizes His Peers to Protect the Environment

Surfrider Foundation charity competition marks 9/11

A prominent athlete such as cyclist Lance Armstrong can raise millions of dollars for charitable purposes, according to the Sports Philanthropy Project. Foundations established by Major League Baseball and the National Football League leverage their stars for enormous good. Americans' obsession with fitness has turned participatory events such as fun runs and swimathons into reliable cash cows for the nonprofit world.

Against that backdrop of crusading jocks and big-buck foundations, the Surfrider session does seem a bit laid back. Organizer Tomson predicts the day will be "very calming. The way the beach faces the coast, it is protected from the northwesterly winds. It is very sheltered. The waves break perfectly."

For those who can't be there, Tomson recommends visiting any beach: "The ocean speaks powerfully, if you listen. I believe in the whole notion of the ocean as a place of spirituality. Take a walk with someone you love along the beach, or the beach in your mind. That can change your life."

Or it can keep you steady when your life changes suddenly and horribly. That is precisely what happened to Tomson and his wife, Carla, several years ago. "We lost our beautiful 15-year-old son in an accident," he says. His steady voice can come only from a man who has found a way to make sense of calamity.

"You have to realize that we are all connected, and through those connections your life can be better. Putting yourself in another person's shoes, and giving back to another person, makes it better.

"And these are the only ways that one can get through these terrible trying moments of loss that we all experience, whether they are sickness or cancer or death." Or the terrorist attacks nine years ago.

"It is the greatest feeling on this day of remembrance to give something back," he says. "And that feeling can help us beat the terror."

Tomson may sound like the wise man of the sea, but do not call him the old man of the sea. "I am 55, and I am young and strong. That is how surfers are living their lives these days. You know, the great thing about surfing is that it keeps you young, both physically and mentally. Yesterday I was surfing for six hours."

 "I will surf forever. I will surf until I die."

Jack Curry, a former editor at USA Today, is a freelance writer and editor and serves on the editorial board of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, specializing in corporate philanthropy and the media.

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