There were 43 beach patrols from across the nation that showed up to compete at the 2016 United States Lifeguard Association (USLA) National Lifeguard Championships, held in Hermosa Beach, Calif., from Thursday, Aug. 11, through Saturday, Aug. 13.
Among the best of them were local guards from Sussex County.
Going up against year-round crews including the L.A. County Surf Lifesaving Association and Fort Lauderdale Ocean Rescue, Sussex County’s summer-only patrol team placed fifth for the Howard Lee Trophy for total overall points in open and age-group events combined, with a score of 281.500.
The county team also placed sixth for the Greg Farry Trophy, for overall points in men’s and women’s open divisions, finishing with 255.000. The total was just over 10 points shy of the score for the Monmouth County (N.J.) squad, which took fifth and also edged Sussex in the Howard Lee Trophy standings.
Among the top finishers from the group were local guards from Bethany Beach, South Bethany, and Fenwick Island — all three patrols earning gold medals at the event.
After spending the summer going head-to-head in regional competitions, the patrols teamed up with guards from Dewey and Rehoboth beaches as well, to represent Sussex at nationals.
“I think there is definitely kind of a Delaware pride when you go out and compete at that level at nationals,” explained Bethany Beach Patrol Capt. Joe Donnelly. “This is one of the few times that we compete together as a larger group.”
“You build up relationships with these people throughout the years, and then to be able to go do something all together and basically represent your state, it was pretty cool,” added Fenwick Island Beach Patrol guard Mason Sanders. “We were definitely cheering each other on every event we were down there by the water.”
Sanders finished sixth in the U19 Surf Ski, with other Fenwick guards earning top finishes as well. FIBP’s Brad Hort earned a gold medal in the Open Men’s 2K Beach Run, taking first place in the event for the second year in a row.
Liam Magerr of the Rehoboth Beach Patrol finished in fifth place in that event, with Sussex County’s James Hagen finishing eighth, and BBP’s Marshall Saunders and Bailey Noel earning Top 20 finishes as well.
In Open Men’s Beach flags, BBP’s Dustin Venables took second place, but one of the County’s most dominant performances came in the Open Men’s 4-by-100 Run Relay, where they not only earned gold, but silver as well.
In first place, it was Bethany’s Sean O’Donnell, Garrett Diehl, Bryant Wheatley and Chris Javens taking home the gold, and fellow Sussex County guards Nathan Jones, Mitch Sgro, Samuel McMillon and Louis Fedele nabbing the silver.
After the same squad was edged by the patrol from Ocean City, Md., in the event at nationals held in Daytona Beach, Fla., last year, the Bethany squad was looking for redemption in the relay this year.
“They were definitely determined going into this year’s nationals,” said Donelly, noting last year’s photo-finish against OCBP. “They really upped their training.”
Other notable finishes for Bethany included Matthew Farlow taking second in Men’s 40-44 Beach Flags.
South Bethany earned gold in the Open Landline Rescue Race, with Tyler Dorsey, Ruslan Kopunek, Phillip Kopunek and Claudia Guay teaming up in the event for the first-place finish.
Caroline Hamilton took ninth in the Open Women’s Surf Race for South Bethany, and Ben Chandlee earned three first-place age-group finishes in the Men’s 35-39 Board Race, Men’s 2K Beach Run and Men’s Ironman.
Overall at the event, the Mid-Atlantic region took second place, behind the Southwest.