Bethany Beach certainly has its fair mix of younger lifeguards and especially some veterans. One of those veterans is Dale Sager, who has been along the shores of Coastal Delaware for eight summers now.
The 29-year-old started on the patrol when he was fresh out of college, having graduated from James Madison University, which was close to his home in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. He earned a bachelor’s degree in mathematics and followed that up with a master’s degree in teaching. He has used that education to become a math teacher for the eighth grade at Luray Middle School in Virginia.
Sager first learned about being a lifeguard from a friend on the JMU water polo team. That friend thought that Sager’s athletic experiences in high school, as well as his strong swimming skills in water polo, would make him an ideal candidate for being a lifeguard.
“I played water polo with a friend in college, who was a local guy who guarded here in the summers,” Sager said of his friend Chris Ashley. “He guarded with me my first couple of summers, but he’s since moved on to another career. He was from Maryland, and now works at the Georgia Aquarium.
“The funny thing is that the first time I ever stepped foot on Bethany Beach was for my tryout. Other than that, I had never been here before, but over the years, this has become a very special place for me. It’s where I married my wife two years ago. It’s now our little place.”
During his high school years, Sager ran cross-country, played soccer, and also participated on the school’s swim team.
He has since become a great leader and motivator for the Bethany Beach Beach Patrol lifeguards. His experience and personality make him a valuable asset as well.
“Aside from his great skill and professionalism, Dale is the consummate big brother on the patrol,” Bethany Beach Beach Patrol Capt. Joe Donnelly said of his veteran guard. “He always has a kind word, a gesture of encouragement and a listening ear for anyone who needs it. He’s the human morale booster. Everyone loves being around him.”
That high praise for Sager certainly isn’t lost on him, but he attributes that to the leadership the whole squad gets from Donnelly.
“The captain — I cannot think of another guy I would rather work for other than Capt. Joe Donnelly,” said Sager. “He’s a huge reason I keep coming back.
“I have a tremendous respect for our officers, and now that I am getting older, three of them were all just regular stand guards when I joined, so they became my friends on the job. I’ve been able to see them get promoted. I respect all of them so much. I love being up here. I think it’s a great way to spend my summer. It makes me feel like I am helping out the community, the people.
“A lot of the guys that get into the education, which a bunch of the older guys are — it makes it easier to do this. We say it’s the ‘beach-and-teach lifestyle.’”
Sager has certainly seen his fair share of action while manning the stands along the Bethany shores. One particular memory came up during our conversation.
“It’s kind of crazy because, after doing this for a good chunk of time — I mean this is summer eight — I’ve made a lot of rescues,” Sager acknowledged. “Some of them could be considered just a small one, but it’s generally someone that needs assistance getting out of the water. You don’t always get this big swim out — 200 strokes — to get them.
“One that sticks in my memory is I was sitting on Stand No. 14, which is right next to Sea Colony, and I was sitting with a guard was a year newer than me. We were looking, and there was a big rip current right on the border of Bethany Beach and Sea Colony. I knew we needed to keep a close eye on it, and sure enough, within 10 minutes, it started to open up and lengthened out.
“We started to see a couple little heads get sucked on out to sea. We knew right then we had to get out there. We ran almost to Sea Colony and used the rip current to get out to the kids. We had some guards from Sea Colony out there with us, as well as some backups from our patrol. There was a group of us all out in this rip current. We call those things ‘party pools.’ You have 10 or so people out there sitting in a rip current.
“By the time we got out,” he said of riding the rip current back in, “we ended up getting out on the Sea Colony side. We had a little run back to our territory. We had people on the beach clapping and cheering. It’s not necessary,” he added of the clapping and cheering, “but it’s nice when they see that we are not just out here sitting on the stands getting a tan.”
Sager said he has enjoyed his time as a member of the Bethany Beach Beach Patrol, and that he will always carry the wonderful memories and friendships with him whenever the time comes for him to walk away.