The senior guard group at 2012 Nationals in Cape May, New Jersey 2012 including Sag Harbor resident Katie Osiecki, fifth from the left.
By Ellen Frankman
Once more, the East Hampton Town Lifeguard program has sent its senior guards and members of the East Hampton Town Junior Lifeguard Program to the United States Lifesaving Association (USLA) National Lifeguard Championships.
The 2013 National Championship is currently underway in Manhattan Beach, California, with the adult guards competing August 8 through August 10 and the junior guards competing on August 7. A total of 54 guards flew out to the event in California to compete against the more than 1,200 lifeguards from across the country. In a program of approximately 300, East Hampton Town guards need not qualify to attend.
The events include beach run, surf race, board race, beach flags, rescue race, swim relay, run swim run and ironguard. The senior guards act as coaches and support teams for the juniors during the first day of competition.
“When you are competing at a national level it is very intimidating,” said John Ryan, chief lifeguard of the Town of East Hampton. “Even the strongest competitors get those butterflies going.”
For the past two years, Lucy Kohlhoff—a summer resident of Montauk—has competed in USLA Nationals as a junior lifeguard. In 2011, Kohlhoff won first place in the beach flags and distance run event for the 12 to 13-year-old age group. Lucy’s younger sister Sophie placed first in beach flags as well in the 2012 Nationals Competition. Lucy also placed first in the Sandy Hook All-Women’s Tournament at the end of July. This year, both sisters have packed their bags and are heading to Manhattan Beach. Lucy, now 16, will compete as an adult and Sophie, age 14, will remain in the junior guards competition.
“John Ryan and all our other leaders try to encourage us to compete in as many events as possible,” said Lucy Kohlhoff, who currently works as a Stillwater lifeguard at Gin Beach in Montauk. “The competition will be tough, but our goal is to get into semifinals or finals.”
Kohlhoff will be competing in the board race, landline rescue, board rescue, beach relay, a 2K distance run, and once more beach flags, at which she particularly excels. Beach flags is a fast-paced sprint-style event, in which the competitors begin lying face down in the sand. A whistle is blown and they must get up, turn around and race for a flag approximately 25 yards away, of which there is one fewer than the number of competitors.
“Since I started going two years ago, I look forward to nationals all year round,” said Kohlhoff. “I meet people from all over the nation, and see new places. This year I am excited to compete as a senior guard to see more serious competitors, especially from the West Coast.”
As all senior guards do, Kohlhoff will also have the opportunity to coach the junior competitors including her sister.
“It’s fun doing it with my sister because we get to cheer each other on,” said Kohlhoff.
Two Sag Harbor natives will also be representing the adult guards at Nationals this week. Jeremy Pepper, 19, has been working as a lifeguard for three years, but this will be his first trip to the USLA National Championship.
“I’m excited because I’ll get to see what different lifeguards all over the country are like,” said Pepper. “We are going to be getting to go up against these career lifeguards. In California it is the same as being a firefighter. They work and train all year round and have pensions, so they are really good.”
Pepper says he alongside the other senior guards train three days a week during the summer months, an hour-and-a-half before work. Pepper plans to compete in the 2K distance run, landline rescue, the distance swim which is around 500 yards, and beach flags.
Pepper got into lifeguarding after swimming competitively in high school. Now, he even enjoys the thrill of a save.
“It keeps you on your toes a little more and you get to have action,” said Pepper. “The first time you are nervous, but most of the time you just go in and you do it and it’s not really that hard. Whatever we have to do we are generally prepared for.”
For Sag Harbor local Katie Osiecki, 21, this will be her second Nationals competition and her second year as a lifeguard.
“Being a lifeguard is something I always wanted to do,” said Osiecki, who this summer is working at Nick’s Beach, a town beach in Montauk. “Competing just adds that extra edge. I’ve always loved being part of a team and it just adds more to it.”
Osiecki will be competing in the beach flags competition, the 2K distance run, and the rescue race. Osiecki has also been training in the mornings before work, but she says overall the town successfully equips its guards both for competitions and for the job itself.
“The town does a good job of preparing you physically and then once you get to your beach your captain prepares you mentally,” said Osiecki. “It is just as much a physical game as it is a mental game. While being fit and in shape is important, you have to know how to react and where you’re going. You are in charge of people’s lives.”
Osiecki is also looking forward to coaching the juniors during Nationals. It’s an experience she got a taste of while coaching the women’s team at the tournament in Sandy Hook. After weeks of training, the team took third out of 27 teams.
“They are not just amazing athletes, they are devoted,” said Osiecki. She plans to carry over some of those coaching techniques to Nationals.
“It’s a good time and it’s just a great group of people,” she said. “When you’re not competing, you are watching and supporting everyone else.”