Lifeguards from the Delmarva region and as far as Jones Beach, N.Y., converged on Rehoboth Beach on July 13 for the United States Lifesaving Association (USLA) Mid-Atlantic Regional Championship, in hopes of moving to the next level: the national competition at Virginia Beach.
The fine-tuned athletes compete in a myriad of events, including a 2-mile beach run, surf swim, beach flags (the most competitive event), swimmer rescue race, landline, 4-by-100 soft-sand sprint, rescue-board rescue race, surf dash and the run-swim-run event.
The run-swim-run event has recently been dedicated to former Jones Beach lifeguard and Marine Corps Lt. Matt Lynch. Lynch joined the Marines just months after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and went on to serve three tours — the third of which was voluntary duty, again in Iraq.
But Lynch was killed by a roadside bomb on Oct. 31, 2004, in Ramadi, Baghdad —two months into that third tour and after he returned to his original unit: the 1st Battalion, 5th Regiment.
He had been an accomplished swimmer at Jericho High School in Long Island, N.Y., and went on to succeed as one of Duke University’s best swimmers. So, for Lynch, lifeguarding was a natural transition.
Lynch (along with his brother Tim) patrolled the Jones Beach shores from 1995 to 2001 and competed yearly at the Rehoboth Beach event.
“I was happy that my boys had a chance to be a part of such a great group of guys,” said their father and retired Marine Capt. Bill Lynch.
“We’re like one big family,” added friend and 29-year veteran lifeguard Steve Levy of lifeguards.
Lynch’s extended family continues to stand by their fallen son and has raised $30,000 for the Injured Marine Semper Fi Fund, which goes to help cover the expenses for injured soldiers’ families to visit them.
“Matt was untouchable,” said Bill Lynch of his son. “If anyone was going to make it out it was going to be him. I told him not to push his luck going back for a voluntary tour, but he didn’t want to leave his men behind.”
“That’s the kind of guy he was,” he added.
So, in the spirit of competition and in Lynch’s memory, the quickest lifeguard to sprint from a point on the beach, into the water and back to a second point on land is presented the Matt Lynch Memorial Run-Swim-Run Award at the Rehoboth Beach competition.
All other events are broken down by gender and age categories, which can allow ample representation for many local squads at the national tournament.
But just because there’s a regional tournament going on doesn’t mean that there isn’t a beach to patrol, according to event organizer and Rehoboth Beach lifeguard Josh Tootell.
“All the Rehoboth lifeguards are on duty, and when their event comes up we’ll cycle in someone who isn’t competing so we can cover the beach while they compete,” explained Tootell.
“We’re lifeguards first,” he emphasized.
As a result, the average beachgoer may not be aware that some of these local lifeguards are indeed the fastest athletes in the country in their respective divisions. But, in showing off that athletic prowess, the 4-by-100 men’s relay race always draws the most attention.
“The West Coast and New Jersey are well known for their water-craft events, but we are the best sprinters,” asserted Tootell. “The fastest lifeguards always come from the East Coast. I guess, since most of our rescues are made 50 to 100 yards out, sprinting is practical for us.”
Third-year Fenwick Island lifeguard Kristin Ramey of Beard, Del., noted that her squad just recently became intensely interested in the competitions, in part thanks to the men’s team winning in the 4-by-100 relay last week at Sea Colony.
“We would never compete in the past, but we would work out four days a week. But everyone was excited to see the guys do so well,” said Ramey.
The regional competition was a first for one member of that team and the norm for two others. The goal was to win but also to have fun.
Ramey, herself a first-year regional competitor, said she was nervous competing but to show the other squads their skills was definitely a motivating factor.
“It’s fun interacting with the different beach patrols. But it would be great to win, because if you’re good, then they will remember you,” said Ramey. “They may not remember your name but they remember how you did.”
Rob Krause and Ryan Hays of Long Island, N.Y., breezed through the Men’s 2-mile run on July 13 and credited each other in the victory.
“This is all we do,” said Krause of the long-distance running. “We competed against each other in cross-country in high school and now we like to stay together to help each other out.”
“We’ll pump each other up to push it, or we’ll draft each other and trade off to give each other a break,” added Hays.
Teamwork is necessary to succeed at most things in life and lifeguards definitely rely on each other to help keep the beaches safe each and every day. But during these events, the athletes focus instead on competition, aiming to best represent their respective beach patrols, their individual athleticism and the training that exemplifies both.