Lifeguards — perhaps more so than any other emergency responders — bear an immediate and personal responsibility for their wards: they’re already on the scene when something goes wrong, and that makes it hard to beg excuse.
Like all responders, they can sometimes idle for days or even weeks between rescues, but manage to stay focused and attentive.
But most responders get to work from solid ground, or at least the deck of a boat. Lifeguards have to expect the average victim will be struggling away in the wrong direction or trying to dunk them, or both.
That can get old fast. All the training in the world can’t in the least bit improve their ability to breathe underwater. But without that training, a lifeguard is just another victim waiting to founder, so patrols meet on the beach every day — each and every day — for a run and swim before dragging their stands down to the high-tide mark.
It’s a regimen to rival the training routines of many professional athletes, so intense competition is a logical next step.
Patrols from Rehoboth Beach to Assateague Island, Md. gathered in front of the towers at Sea Colony on July 6 for just that, as the local Ocean Series action continued to escalate toward the Mid-Atlantic Regionals (scheduled for July 13 in Rehoboth Beach).
From there, the patrols will send their strongest athletes to Virginia Beach, Va., for the U.S. Lifeguarding Association Nationals (Aug. 11-13).
Local patrols compete collectively at that event, as part of the Sussex County Lifesaving Association (SCLA). The SCLA will be pushing for another podium finish this year, after taking third in Daytona Beach, Fla., last year, and third in Cape May, N.J., the year before.
According to Mike Jandzen, ResortQuest Lifeguard Service director, all of this competition serves as a very important motivator for the guards — a chance for everyone to notch a little recognition among colleagues.
“It’s not unusual that a guard might make multiple rescues in one day, and between rescues run up and down the beach as backup,” Jandzen pointed out. “It can be intense. They have to be in shape, and they have to be motivated to train.”
He noted the competitions as a good opportunity to earn a little prestige, which is something guards could carry back to high school or college, or into their athletic careers. (Some are already professional triathletes, using the lifeguarding jobs to ramp up their training, he said.)
Equally as important, he said, the competitions are a great place to build camaraderie. With European exchange students rounding out the local patrols (Americans tending to leave the beaches a few weeks before the final end of the summer season), Jandzen said language barriers were sometimes obstacles to interaction and friendship.
Competing as a team tended to remove those barriers, he pointed out.
“This helps bring us together, helps us gel as a team,” he said. “We have guards from Czechoslovakia, Russia, Poland — but there are no nationalities when we’re competing.”
And inasmuch as every squad is working to protect lives along the Delmarva Peninsula, he suggested the competition tends to foster friendships and unity among all the area patrols.
Someone has to come in last, though, and someone has to come in first.
The ResortQuest Lifeguard Service once again dominated on their home turf this year, followed by patrols from Ocean City, Md., and Middlesex Beach. Squads from South Bethany, Fenwick Island, Delaware State Parks, Rehoboth Beach, Bethany Beach, Assateague, Md., and Dewey Beach rounded out the competition.
All the patrols will return to local Ocean Series competition following the Mid-Atlantic Regionals, with Bethany Beach hosting an event Aug. 1, followed by Fenwick Island on Aug. 3.