Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Ellenton boy retrieves Epiphany cross from Tarpon's Spring Bayou

TARPON SPRINGS

Jumping feet first into chilly Spring Bayou for the Epiphany cross dive on Monday, Peter Smith had a strategy: Swim to the first dinghy on the left, he thought, noting strong winds that might push the prized cross in that direction.

However, the boat overturned almost immediately, forcing Smith and the other divers in his dinghy to stay in the water for more than 7 minutes until the cross was tossed into the 62-degree bayou.

Though he couldn't get in the boat, Smith, 18, of Ellenton wouldn't be deterred.

He said he started swimming toward the place where the cross landed and was running out of breath when he saw a bright white glow on the bayou floor. He clutched the object, bringing it to his face to make sure it was the Epiphany cross.

Riding back to the church atop his fellow divers' shoulders (and later while signing autographs and posing for photographs with well-wishers), the second-year diver said he was still in disbelief at locating the cross in just 14.7 seconds.

"I'm afraid I'm going to wake up," Smith said, leaning back his head to look at the sky while holding the cross and 2014 trophy high. "I'm still full of adrenalin. I started crying."

The cross dive, in which 43 Greek boys between the ages of 16 and 18 participated, was the headline event of the 108th Epiphany celebration, the commemoration every Jan. 6 of the baptism of Jesus in the River Jordan by John the Baptist.

Tarpon Springs is said to have the largest Epiphany celebration in the western hemisphere. A large crowd of spectators estimated in the thousands bundled up in coats and blankets against a blustery 22 mph wind to watch the dive as Archbishop Demetrios, primate of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, tossed the cross.

The day's events began with the 8:30 a.m. arrival of the archbishop, riding in a limousine escorted by police. The bells of St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Cathedral pealed to announce his arrival.

Throughout the morning, celebrants from far and wide lit candles inside the church and prayed.

After the dive, every seat in the Spanos Pappas Community Center was taken as Glendi festival attendees ate souvlaki, gyros and baklava and costumed children danced to a band playing traditional Greek music.

• • •

While organizers had estimated that as many as 25,000 spectators would be in Tarpon Springs for the Epiphany celebration, the forecast for high winds and plummeting temperatures appeared to have reduced turnout.

The first person to set up his chair at the bayou was Tracy Komninos, 49, of Hudson, who was attending his first Epiphany in Tarpon Springs. By 4 a.m. Monday, he was sitting in his chair beside the bayou.

"I've never come here before. I've always seen it on TV," said Komninos, a Catholic who grew up Greek Orthodox. "I've got a perfect view. It's like tailgating for Epiphany."

After the dive, spectators lining the street shouted Axios! — he is worthy — as Smith's fellow divers carried him to St. Nicholas, where they all kneeled and Archbishop Demetrios placed a necklace with a gold cross around Smith's neck and blessed him.

Smith, a senior at Saint Stephen's Episcopal School in Bradenton and a member of Sarasota's St. Barbara Greek Orthodox Church, wasn't the first in his extended family to retrieve the cross. His mother's brother, Basil Assimack, retrieved it in 1979.

Smith's mother Anna, 14-year-old brother Robert and grandmother Nena Assimack watched the cross dive from the shoreline. The family, watching through a zoomed camera lens, at first didn't realize Smith was the victor because organizers said the wrong name.

Home with the flu, his father Bob watched the dive on television, but his son's win got dad out of bed and in the car to head to Tarpon Springs.

Anna Smith said she could feel her son's uncle and namesake, the late Peter T. Assimack, looking down and saying, "Wow." Assimack was a popular Tarpon Springs accountant and fisherman who died from cancer in 1996 at age 35.

She said her son is "a water boy. He fishes like crazy," both commercially and recreationally. That he retrieved the cross is "just a nice blessing for our family," she said.

Added Robert: "It's not necessarily a competition for him. He dove because the whole family loves it and it makes my grandma proud." His brother's victory may mean extra pressure when he dives in two years, but he's not worried because "it's really cool to have a brother accomplish this … to be able to say 'my brother got it.' "

Smith said he's looking forward to the rumored year of blessings that comes with finding the cross as he starts this fall at Florida Gulf Coast University, where he plans to study entrepreneurship and minor in marketing or finance.

"I couldn't be more blessed," he said.

Keyonna Summers can be reached at (727) 445-4153 or ksummers@tampabay.com.

Ellenton boy retrieves Epiphany cross from Tarpon's Spring Bayou 01/06/14 [Last modified: Tuesday, January 7, 2014 12:23pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. 'Me too': Alyssa Milano urged assault victims to tweet in solidarity. The response was massive.

    Human Interest

    Actor Alyssa Milano took to Twitter on Sunday with an idea, suggested by a friend, she said.

    Within hours of Alyssa Milano’s tweet, tweets with the words “me too” began appearing. By 3 a.m. Monday, almost 200,000 metoo tweets were published by Twitter’s count.
  2. Tampa tax shelter schemer too fat for his prison term, attorney says

    Criminal

    TAMPA — A federal judge sentenced two Bay area men to prison terms last week for peddling an offshore tax shelter scheme that cost the IRS an estimated $10 million.

    Duane Crithfield and Stephen Donaldson Sr. were sentenced to prison after marketing a fraudulent offshore tax strategy known as a "Business Protection Plan" to medical practices, offering doctors and others coverage against unlikely events such as a kidnapping.

  3. Weinstein Co., overwhelmed by backlash, may be up for sale

    Corporate

    NEW YORK — The Weinstein Co., besieged by sexual harassment allegations against its namesake and co-founder, may be putting itself up for sale.

    Weinstein
  4. Trial begins in 2014 death of 19-month-old Tampa girl

    Criminal

    TAMPA — Even before his trial officially began, Deandre Gilmore had planted his gaze on the floor of Judge Samantha Ward's courtroom Monday, taking a deep breath and shifting in his seat as a pool of 60 potential jurors learned of his charges.

    Gilmore
  5. Rick Pitino officially fired by Louisville amid federal corruption probe

    College

    In an expected move, the University of Louisville Athletic Association's Board of Directors on Monday voted unanimously to fire men's basketball coach Rick Pitino. The decision came 19 days after Louisville acknowledged that its men's basketball program was being investigated as part of a federal corruption probe and …

    In this Oct. 20, 2016, file photo, Louisville head basketball coach Rick Pitino reacts to a question during a press conference in Louisville, Ky. Louisville's Athletic Association on Monday officially fired Pitino, nearly three weeks after the school acknowledged that its men's basketball program is being investigated as part of a federal corruption probe. [AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley, File]