Female lifeguards competed in severe weather conditions during Sussex County’s first all-women’s lifeguard competition on July 6.
The young women were set to compete on Middlesex Beach at 6 p.m. when a rainstorm hit the area. The coordinators, Middlesex Beach Patrol Capt. Justin Voorheis and Ocean City’s Sgt. Rick Cawthorn still decided to hold the event, saying they were confident that the competition would not be compromised by the weather conditions.
The women competed in six different events: the Ironwoman (a combination of running, paddling and swimming), a mile-long beach run, a run-swim-run event, a run-paddle-run event and an event called “beach flags.”
According to Voorheis, there were more than 40 guards who attended competition. The women represented patrols from Assateague Island to Rehoboth Beach.
“It’s cool to see the amount of women guarding, competing… saving lives,” Voorheis added.
Before the competition, many of the guards were nervous.
Sydney Bickel, 17, a Middlesex guard, was nervous for her patrolmates, because of their young ages, ranging from 17 to 20. Despite her nerves, Bickel said, she placed third in the mile run last year in a competition in New Jersey, so she was used to the pressure.
The Middlesex guards trained every day for an hour before work. As competitions would approach, Bickel said, each individual guard would practice certain tasks that were specific to the events they would be competing in.
The girls said they were really excited about getting a chance to have their own competition. Katie Bole, 19, a Bethany Beach guard, mentioned that she and her patrolmate Kay Kay Greskovich, also 19, were really “pumped” to hear this event was happening.
“I don’t think there’s a difference. We can do everything they can do,” Bole said when asked about how she felt about not competing amongst men. She was proud to say that she and the other female guards in Bethany have never had a problem keeping up with their male coworkers.
As the competition approached, the rain began beating down even harder on the beach. Guards and their supporters huddled under beach umbrellas, which were barely able to withstand the harsh wind.
The competition kicked off with the Ironwoman event. Visibility was very limited because of the amount of rain and fog accumulating on the beach. The competitors said one of the hardest tasks was running through the wet and slippery sand.
When it came to the condition of the ocean, the waves were aggressive and frequent, making some guards worried about the events that involved swimming, such as the distance swim. The guards had to swim to and from a buoy amidst the crashing waves and rip currents. Fellow patrol mates and captains aided the women as they tried to make their way back onto the sand.
Grace Hansen, a Fenwick Island guard who partook in that event, said the rough water conditions were very intimidating.
“The waves were coming at you the whole time,” she said. “It was pitch black out there.”
Despite her doubts, Hansen was able to land third place for Fenwick in the event.
The final event was beach flags, in which the participants all lie down on their stomachs, with their heads down, on one side of a marked off area. Small poles were set up behind them. The number of poles was less than the number of women. When the whistle blew, the competitors had to quickly get up, turn around and sprint in an attempt to snatch a pole before the others. The guards that were left without a pole were eliminated. That event lasted until the last pole captured.
Spectators stood by the competitors throughout the whole competition, despite the continuous storm. Among them were several male guards who had come to support their female coworkers.
“I’m glad I could be there to support my fellow patrolmates,” said Jack Fox, 20, a South Bethany lifeguard.
According to the competition statistics provided by Voorheis, Ocean City’s guards took first place. Dewey Beach followed and Bethany Beach got third. Following the top three patrols, from fourth place down, came South Bethany, Middlesex, North Bethany, Fenwick, Sea Colony, Delaware State Parks and, finally, Henlopen.
The women who participated in each event fought hard to represent themselves and their patrols, even when faced with severe weather conditions that had spectators questioning whether the competition should have been postponed.
“Some people didn’t like that we did it, because it rained,” Voorheis said. “All the women thought it was a blast.”