The road to a consecutive United States Lifeguard Championship in the 4-by-100 men’s relay is one marked with a lot of hard work and competition for Ben Gichner, Matt Lewis, Randy Vanderhook and newcomer Andrew Cordell-Carey of the Fenwick Island Beach Patrol (FIBP).
But after earning a third-place finish in the event at Atlantic Regional Lifesaving Championships recently in Rehoboth Beach, these four local lifeguards are on the fast track for defending their title at this year’s national championship, which will be held at Myrtle Beach, S.C., between Aug. 9 and 11.
The FIBP team won the gold medal last year and is chomping at the bit for a chance to join the lifeguarding history books as one of the many teams that have repeated in the past.
“I would be honored to finish in the top three, but to win would be unbelievable,” Lewis said.
“They have this big booklet with all the past winners [at the United States Lifeguard Championship], and when we go back and look at the repeats it’s going to make us just that more determined to repeat.”
Vanderhook, a 10-year veteran of the beach patrol, is extremely determined after breaking his arm in the beach flags competition that took place the day before the FIBP team won the gold medal last year. He’s won a slew of silver and bronze medals over the last eight years of national competition, but the gold medal has eluded him.
Gone are Thomas Veith and esteemed 4-by-100 relay runner Clint Bunting of the Rehoboth Beach Patrol, who filled in for Vanderhook at the last minute in the 2006 competition. But two of the four of last year’s gold medal winners are returning — Gichner and Lewis — and then there’s Vanderhook, who’s arguably one of FIBP’s fastest runners, according to FIBP Capt. Tim Ferry.
Though he missed out on the gold last year, this year Venderhook is confident that their team is equally as capable as the 2006 team.
“This year’s team is quite comparable,” Vanderhook said. “We picked up someone just as fast,” he noted of Cordell-Carey as a replacement for Veith. “And as a team, with the experience of last year and what we’ve taught Andrew, we’ll do well.”
The addition of Cordell-Carey should serve them well — especially after all of the time each of the four has put into training and preparing their bodies.
“I push them every morning, and some of them [FIBP lifeguards] might be cursing me during or after our workouts, but we’re working hard for a reason,” Ferry said. “They’ve bought into my package, with the drills and training, and it all ties into ending up with a solid lifeguard [unit].”
A typical pre-duty workout routine usually lasts about an hour and might range from endurance running to “suicides” — the in-and-outs that simulate ocean lifesaving techniques — as well as swims, and the list goes on. Ferry was pleased to announce that “at least 75 percent” of his guards do some sort of additional workout during their 20-minute break period every day.
To be the best, one must be willing to go the extra mile. And for those heading down to the national championships in South Carolina, that’s exactly what they do.
Lewis said that they’ll put in another hour workout three to four days a week, doing dune sprints or running waist-deep in the water to gain strength, working their abdominals, practicing their handoffs for the relay, “and just about everything else you can imagine.”
The difference between winning the gold medal and second place at the national level is extremely slim, so Lewis and his teammates are diligent in their preparation. The difference, according to Lewis, isn’t speed or quickness — because, in this event, they’re all fast and quick — but the hand-off, which is something they practice more than anything.
“You have to have good runners, but you have to have a good hand-off,” Lewis said. “That’s the biggest part. That’s where you gain or lose time.”
And, in addition to the 4-by-100 men’s relay team, the FIBP will also send to national competition Kelly Gonzalez, who placed first in beach flags at the regional tournament and the all-women’s tournament in Sandy Hook, N.J., as well as Kip Huffman and Ferry himself.
“We have a legitimate chance to have four gold medals,” Ferry said. “Kelly and Randy are legitimate contenders in the beach flags. Our 4-by-100 is defending their title. And I have won five [gold medals] in three different divisions (open, seniors and masters) including two in the 4-by-100.
“I wish I could take more, but we also have to cover the beach and make sure it’s safe,” Ferry added.