May The Best Lifeguard Win: Regional Competition Tests Lifesaving Skills Of South Florida's Rescuers

Jul 20, 2017

Usually lifeguards on the beach are there to watch over swimmers. But earlier this week, 220 professional lifeguards took over Delray Beach to compete with each other and test their skills as part of the U.S. Lifesaving Association's Southeast Regional Championships. 

"We are the only sport that exists first for humanitarian purposes," said Chris Nowviskie, former coach of the Youth National Lifesaving team. The championship competition includes swimming, running, row-boating, paddle-boarding, kayaking and various combination relays.

In some of the events in the Southeast Regionals, such as the landline, lifeguards play the role of "victim" while their teammates have to save them. But, as Volusia County competitor Hallie Petersohn explained, at international competitions they use mannequins instead.

April O'Gorman and Hallie Petersohn are both members of the U.S. National Team.
Credit Allison Light / WLRN

"They have eyes and they have a nose and they have a chin, so you have to hold them under the chin or under the back of the head, and you have to hike him up on your hip while you're swimming freestyle and kind of swim with him down the pool," said Petersohn. "It's very uncomfortable, and it's very weird to watch it if you don't know what's going on."

It may be weird, but this kind of intense "mannequin challenge," so to speak, shows just what the sport is all about: saving lives. These athletes take their jobs seriously, but they also take this sport seriously. Many of them have hopes that someday surf lifesaving will be accepted as an event in the Olympics.

"They're adding new sports all the time," said Nowviskie. "Cheerleading just made the Olympics, which is great for cheerleading, but with a sport like surf lifesaving and the message that it sends throughout the world...we're hoping that we can see that in the future."

Hallie Petersohn and her teammates are focusing on making the U.S.  team at Nationals in August. Those who do will compete in New Zealand at the end of the year. In the meantime, South Floridians can feel pretty safe – Miami Beach lifeguards took gold at the regional.

Competitors near the finish line in kayak doubles.
Credit Allison Light / WLRN