“Two seconds and it’s over,” said Fenwick Island Lifeguard Emily Ruppert. “Each run. Two seconds and you can be either in or out and there’s no second chances.”
Ruppert will be traveling to Adelaide, Australia next week to be one of six women lifeguards competing on the 12-person U.S. team.
“I’m really excited,” she said.
Ruppert has been training with her Patrol Captain Tim Ferry, who himself won several national championships and competed in Worlds in 2000 in Sidney where he placed third, and again in 2002 at Daytona Beach, Fla. where be placed second.
“It’s definitely another level of competition,” said Ferry of the World Championship.
Ruppert, who will be with the U.S. team in Australia from November 16 through the 26, will competing in the beach flags and 20-meter race events.
Beach flags begins with competitors face-down, facing away from a row of flags placed at a 20-meter distance behind them. At the start signal, competitors stand up and race towards the row of flags to grab hold of a flag. The number of flags is always one less than the number of competitors. The competitor who does not grab a flag is eliminated.
“It’s like musical chairs with flags,” explained Ferry. “It’s probably the most fun event to watch. It’s probably the most watched event in the competition.”
Ruppert placed third in beach flags at the USLA National Lifeguard Championship, and was on the teach that won the sprint-relay competition. The day after, The day after, the U.S. coach asked her to apply to go to Worlds.
“I sent in all this stuff and I think within a week or two they said they’d let me know,” she said, noting that a guard from Dewey Beach Patrol was offered the spot instead. “I kind of got my hopes up and I was bummed… They really made it seem like they wanted me.”
Then, at the end of September, Ruppert was contacted by the U.S. team again.
“They asked if I still wanted to go because someone backed out,” she said, noting that after a few back-and-forth calls, she was invited to be a part of the U.S. team.
Ruppert learned that the Dewey guard had chosen not to go because she was interviewing for her dream job.
“It would’ve bene really cool if we could’ve gone together,” Ruppert said.
“The selection process is very, very picky. They look at the body of work that of the athletes they are considering,” said Ferry, noting the World Competition is held every two years.
To prepare for the competition, Ruppert has been training six to seven times a week, along with individual training sessions with Ferry.
“During the summer we have our workouts every week day. Every morning before work we come to the beach and do swimming, running, pushups, sit ups, boot camp – pretty much all summer,” she said. “All the beach patrols have their own competition. Practicing for those throughout the summer that’s what gets me prepared for regionals.”
“We take our training really seriously. In order to be the best you have to train that way,” he said.
Ruppert is no stranger to competition, having won multiple NSSA National Interscholastic Championships for surfing for the University of North Florida.
“I was a competitive surfer up until last year. I always dreamed about being a pro-surfer. It’s funny, my whole life I thought ‘I’m going to go to Australia to surf,’ and now I’m going to run for lifeguarding.”
Following the competition, she hopes to have the opportunity to travel around and surf
“I’m going to try to stay after and either bring my surf board or rent one there to kind of explore. I kind of want to go to Sidney, maybe up to the Gold Coast – all of the surfing spots I want to go to. I’m like, ‘mom, I might never come back.’ She said, ‘you better be back by Christmas!’” she said with a laugh.
Ruppert graduated from UNF this past spring with a Bachelor’s of Science degree in Athletic Training. She was in the process of looking for a job before being offer the opportunity to go to Worlds.
Ruppert, who spent most of her life living in Florida, would always spend her summers at the Delaware beaches.
“My grandmother lived in Bethany so pretty much every summer of my life I’ve lived here. I used to just work different jobs around then five years ago I started guarding,” she said, noting her mom was once a guard at Congressional Country Club, and her father was a Sea Colony Guard.
Five years ago, Ruppert joined Fenwick Island Beach Patrol, after hearing her good friend Carter Michael talk about the job.
“He said it was so much fun, and that he loved it.”
She found that she loved the job, too, and was given the Rookie of the Year award after her first summer. This past August she received the Captain’s Award from Ferry.
“She’s phenomenal. She picked it up from day one,” said Ferry. “Her body of work is just incredible. Emily has been on some really intense, serious rescues on the beach. Literally, the people, their families have written after saying there’d be no way.”
“Here we’re like a big family,” said Ruppert. “We work out with each other every morning, we push each other, physically, mentally. We make sure we’re always on our toes. We work hard together on the beach and then when works over we have fun together. It’s just like no other job I’ve had.”
Ruppert said the Fenwick Island beach patrons are always so kind – often buying guards lunch or writing them letters.
“It’s a really rewarding job to save someone and help people; to educate them on water safety and being out in the heat and all the sorts of things we see out here. Between fish hooks and broken necks, we see a lot of stuff,” she said. “It’s a fun job but also a very serious job. It comes with a lot of responsibility. I feel honored to be up there; it’s really rewarding.”
As for the competition, Ruppert said she’ll be traveling across the world knowing she can win for the U.S. and for Fenwick Island.
“I hope I win! I am going there with a winning attitude. I’m going to do my best to try and win; and I think I can.”
Those who wish to financially support Ruppert’s trip to compete in Australia may make donations to Emily Ruppert c/o Fenwick Island Beach Patrol and drop them off at Fenwick Island town hall located at 800 Coastal Highway in Fenwick Island. Donations are requested by November 12; however, anything donated after will help Ruppert defray costs.
By Maria Counts