Nick Sheahan Dolphin Rodeo / May 5-7

The Keys community is revving up for the 16th Annual Dolphin Rodeo at Tavernier Creek Marina. The popular fishing tournament benefits graduating seniors at Coral Shores High School, giving away $360,000 in scholarships since its inception. The event also raises awareness of shallow water blackouts, a serious drowning risk that too few people know about.

Last year’s event raised $45,000, granting 15 students $3,000 scholarships. Scholarship recipients are selected based on merit and their application, which they can get from the CSHS CAPS counselor.

In 2004, Coral Shores student Nick Sheahan died of shallow water blackout in a diving accident in the Bahamas. Tom Sheahan started the Nick Sheahan Dolphin Rodeo to honor his son and spread awareness of the drowning risk. 

Shallow water blackout is an underwater “faint” due to prolonged breath-holding. It is often a result of pre-dive hyperventilation or overexertion, meaning even experienced swimmers are at risk, if not more risk than untrained swimmers. The blackout occurs because there is not enough carbon dioxide in the blood to trigger a breathing response as oxygen decreases.

The result is the swimmer losing consciousness without warning, which then triggers a breath that causes water intake. Water depth does not matter as the effects are sudden. Although there are no hard statistics, it is believed 20% of drownings are due to SWB.

While the Dolphin Rodeo brings awareness to a serious problem, it does so in a very fun way. “Many people consider the Kickoff Party the party of the year. It’s known for great music, great food, and a great silent auction and raffle,” Tom says. 

The community is particularly excited about this year’s party since it falls on Cinco de Mayo. “We’re going to have a taco bar and do it up right for the holiday.” Non-anglers are welcome to attend.

The silent auction and 50/50 raffle are highlights of the Kickoff Party, with items donated by local businesses, such as artwork, jewelry, a high-end cooler, fishing gear, fuel, and gift certificates for fishing trips and hotel stays. 

The party truly kicks off the fun for the weekend with the 2-day fishing tournament starting the next day. Every year, well over 100 anglers compete in hopes of breaking the Florida state record for the largest Dolphin Fish and claiming the grand prize of $25,000. If the record goes unbroken, first place will receive $5,000, second place $2,500, and third place $1,000. 

128 anglers participated last year in the adult and junior divisions, and more are expected this year. The same is true for the Kickoff Party, which usually hosts over 200 anglers and guests.

Nick Sheahan


“Every year, it gets bigger and bigger, helping more students and saving more people from shallow water blackouts. It’s very emotional for me, but a great way to honor the memory of my son and help others the way he would have wanted.”

Tom Sheahan gives special thanks to Tavernier Creek Marina, Florida Keys Brewing Co., the Bokor family, the Varney family, Becky Bohnstedt, Joe Biondoletti, Jamie Snyder, Brandi Smith, Jamie Gunther, and the many other sponsors, volunteers, and donors.

If you wish to compete, sponsor, donate or volunteer at this year’s Dolphin Rodeo, visit

Life-Saving Tips to Prevent Shallow Water Blackout:

  •       Always dive or practice endurance with a buddy
  •       Never hyperventilate more than 3 or 4 breaths
  •       Treat your weight belt as disposable and drop it if in doubt
  •       Remember that SWB occurs suddenly and at any depth
  •       Learn CPR and how to adapt it to shore, board, or boat

–  Jerrica Mah is a writer, Army wife, and freelance book editor, who loves to travel with her family.


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