IT'S NO ENDLESS SUMMER for the lifeguards of Monmouth County, a superfit group of men and women made up of students, teachers, police officers, and others who can wrangle time off in July and August to save lives. They brave freezing rain and frigid seas to train all winter so that they can be in peak condition for the 12 weeks of summer when they patrol the beaches of New Jersey and compete in lifeguard contests against power-house teams from California and Florida who work the beach year-round. Los Angeles County, of Baywatch fame, has won 29 out of 31 national contests, which include rowboat, paddle-board, swimming, and running events. Monmouth County won the other two.
“Training hard makes us better at doing our job,” says Alex Ferencz, 30, an oceanographer at Stockton University and a lifeguard in Spring Lake, New Jersey. “There would be no worse feeling than not being fast enough to reach someone who needed to be rescued because you’re not fit enough.” Ferencz is part of a squad of about 60 Monmouth County lifeguards, the fittest out of a group of about 800 summer lifeguards, who compete in nationals. The Monmouth team beat Los Angeles County in 2014 and 2017, shocking the lifeguarding world. “The seasonal teams are not usually as deep as the lifers,” says Tom Gill, chairman of the USLA Nationals Organizing Committee in Virginia Beach, Virginia. “Monmouth County has a rich tradition of guarding and is especially strong in rowing and swimming. Now they also have very strong female competitors and age-group racers.”
The Monmouth racers work out alone and together, often twice a day, while also doing their day jobs. Jack Gramlich, 29, past coach of the Monmouth County nationals team, is a policeman and guard in Spring Lake who helps organize early-morning group training. He competes in the two-person rowing event and trains on the water even in the winter. “We go out in the dark as early as 5:00 a.m. when it’s raining, snowing, whatever! I’ve had the Coast Guard motor up to us on rougher days and ask if we’re okay.”
Many of the Monmouth competitors have been guarding together since their teens, so there is a built-in support and motivation system. Maintaining the work-competition balance isn’t easy. “The people that do this have chosen careers that allow them to continue guarding and competing,” says Gramlich. “We joke about how successful we would be if we had never fallen in love with the sport. But every year, the crew comes back together for those 12 weeks of summer to guard and race. We cherish our summer even more because it is so short.”
You Might Also Like