2007-09-14 / Community

Life In Orange

Inside Rockaway's Lifeguard Culture
By Sean Connington:

This is the final installment in a series of columns in which Sean Connington, a fifth-year Rockaway lifeguard and journalism student at Sacred Heart University in Fairfield, Connecticut, gives readers a look at lifeguard culture and what it's like to have one of the best summer jobs around.

Sean Connington, a Rockaway summer resident and beach lifeguard who added "Wave writer" to his resume this summer, wears his Sacred Heart University football uniform. He returned to Connecticut early last month to start gridiron practice. Sean Connington, a Rockaway summer resident and beach lifeguard who added "Wave writer" to his resume this summer, wears his Sacred Heart University football uniform. He returned to Connecticut early last month to start gridiron practice. Every season comes to an end, and lifeguards slowly return to their lives outside of the summertime, as well. Most guards are returning to either work or school. Because so many Rockaway lifeguards are around the same age, being about 16 to 21 years old, the majority of them are either finishing up high school, going off to college for the first time, or simply returning for another college semester.

The job provides guards with a great experience during the summertime, which we carry over with us during the school year. I know for certain that all year long at school, I look forward to returning to the beach.

I attend Sacred Heart University in Fairfield, Connecticut, where I am a senior and a member of the football team. Because I play football, I am forced to ship off from the beach extra early, so I can start my preseason workouts.

This year, I reported to football camp on August 4th! It's hot, miserable, and I'm surrounded by sweaty football players all the time. All I can think about is how I'd love to be on the beach in the lifeguard chair, instead of being at practice.

Because of the intense physical activity that lifeguarding requires, people who play a sport either in high school or college often are attracted to the job.

"It's easier to make it out to the victim when there's an emergency if you're a better swimmer" says Dorota Lewandowski, a lifeguard who works on the beaches in Belle Harbor.

"Swimming during the school year keeps me in great shape, and it gives me no problems when it's time for me to go back and take the swim test." Lewandowski, who was recently offered a full scholarship to swim the 100- and 200-meter butterfly stroke on the swim team at St. Francis College in Brooklyn, says, "I'm excited, I want to break my record of 59.2 seconds in the 100 fly." Going into my senior year, I often stop and think to myself, "Wow, I'm getting older, and I don't have that many summers left to work on the beach. I'm going to have t wear a shirt and tie to work everyday, now, instead of sunscreen."

My fellow lifeguards are heading back to school. Several are just going off to college for the first time, and their whole campus experience is just starting. "I'm excited to go to school, but I don't want to leave the beach," said third-year lifeguard Jake Touhey, who plans to attend school in Albany in the fall. "I know I'm leaving my friends behind, and it makes me nervous, but I'm excited to meet new people up at school."

Lifeguards often spend time together during the winter season, as well. Many of them keep in touch with each other all year, and because of this, they become even closer than they were during the summer.

"Our annual Christmas shack dinner is the best!" said Katie O'Neil, who sits chair on Beach 123 Street during the summer swimming season. "During the holiday season we love to reminisce about our summers."

O'Neil, who is also a junior at Iona College in New Rochelle, says, "My roommate at school also lifeguards with me during the summer. It's great, during the summer we're partners on the beach, and in the winter we get to be partners in crime." Most lifeguards who attend school work hard all year long, and working on the beach provides them with an opportunity to do something different, which can be both fulfilling and fun.

Whatever their age, or whatever they are doing during the winter, all lifeguards count the days till the next summer when they can hit the beach for another great season. We hear beachgoers count the days, too.

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