2012-08-24 / Community

Riis Park Shines At National Lifeguard Competition


Jacob Riis Park lifeguards Tom O’Neill Jr., left, and Pat Kilgallen. They took first and second, respectively, in the men’s open surf race at the recent U.S.L.A. Nationals 2012 in 
Cape May, N.J. Photo: Courtesy of Matt Quigley. Jacob Riis Park lifeguards Tom O’Neill Jr., left, and Pat Kilgallen. They took first and second, respectively, in the men’s open surf race at the recent U.S.L.A. Nationals 2012 in Cape May, N.J. Photo: Courtesy of Matt Quigley. Riis Park lifeguards Thomas D. O’Neill and Patrick J. Kilgallen took first and second, respectively, in the surf race (open division) on Friday, August 10, at the United States Lifesaving Association national championships in Cape May, New Jersey.

When they crossed the finish line, two questions crossed the minds of more than one of the 1,000-plus competitors present at this meet: “Who are these guys? And where in the world is Riis Park?”

Those two questions were perhaps to be expected, for no one on the current Riis Park lifeguard staff could remember when, if ever, Riis Park had fielded a team at the U.S.L.A. nationals in the past. Nor, for that matter, could anyone else present.

What was clear to all who witnessed the pair in action, however, was how well the two performed — so well, in fact, that U.S.L.A. invited O’Neill to join an elite 12-person team (6 men, 6 women) that will be competing internationally soon.

Kilgallen, 17, a life-long Rockaway resident, seeks to pursue engineering studies at the Binghamton campus of the State University of New York this fall.

He graduated from Xavier High School, in Manhattan, just this past June.

O’Neill, 22, also graduated just this past June, but from Ohio State University, where he majored in finance. He will be putting the knowledge gained in that major to good use at Abercrombie & Fitch’s corporate headquarters this fall.

Serving as inspiring role model for both Kilgallen and O’Neill is O’Neill’s father, also named Thomas, 60, who is the assistant chief lifeguard at Riis Park. The elder O’Neill finished fourth out of 30 in the surf race (masters division).

The surf race involves a short run to enter the ocean, a 400-meter swim around a pair of buoys set offshore, and then a short sprint up the beach to the finish line. The swim distance involved exceeds that of four regulation-size football fields.

Highly important, too, is the fact that this swim is not taking place in a pool, where each competitor has an assigned lane and does not have to contend with oncoming waves or currents — or 30 other competitors jockeying for position.

When asked to explain his success in this event, Tom O’Neill Jr. said, “Given the challenging conditions you encounter when you compete in this race, it is important that you maintain your composure, remain calm, and stay focused.”

He added, “and that you train accordingly.” He explained how both Kilgallen and he had prepared for this event daily, practicing their entries into the surf, sighting and rounding offshore buoys, and swimming many thousands of yards.

This business of swimming thousands of yards is something all too familiar to the younger O’Neill who, as a member of the Ohio State swim team, regularly logged some 80,000 yards of swimming practice per week.

Training at an intensity level nearing that probably explains Kilgallen’s firstplace win in the run-swim-run. This involved running the equivalent of more than two football fields, swimming more than three, and then running more than two to finish.

Rounding out a day of great wins for Riis Park at the U.S.L.A. Nationals 2012 was the third-place finish in the board-rescue race that paired Tom O’Neill Jr., with his younger brother Brian, 20.

This event involved paddling a rescue board to a “victim” waiting offshore at a distance equivalent to one and onequarter football fields, securing that “victim” on the rescue board, then paddling that “victim” that same distance back to shore.

As stated on the U.S.L.A. website, one of the objectives of the U.S.L.A. nationals is to acquaint the general public with “…the procedures and skills used daily by professional lifeguards to advance public safety at the beach.”

Needless to say, Riis Park’s visitors are the daily beneficiaries of the high level of fitness and skill repeatedly shown by Pat Kilgallen and all three O’Neills — Brian; Tom Jr.; and Tom Sr. — at the U.S.L.A. Nationals at Cape May in 2012.

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