By Katie McFadden
The official Rockaway Lifesaving Championships are back! After being rescheduled due to storms, the Lifeguard Games were held on Monday evening, July 31 on Beach 106th Street, and with the New York City Parks Department officially supporting the event, it was everything Rockaway’s guardians of the Atlantic could hope for, especially for 73 Shack, which dominated the competition.
Crowds gathered along the beach to watch Rockaway’s lifeguards do what they do best by putting their individual and team skills to the test. Longtime lifeguard Justin Hausler, who helped organize the event, explained that the lifeguard championship was something with a long history, with the first games held in 1938, 85 years ago. But unfortunately, it was something that wasn’t consistent. After being put on pause in the early 2000s, a few lifeguards attempted to bring it back last summer, in an unofficial capacity, to boost morale on the beach. It was a hit. And this year, it was even better with new NYC Parks First Deputy Commissioner Iris Rodriguez-Rosa, who knows just how important New York City lifeguards are, giving her full support. This year, NYC Parks was an official host of the Lifeguard Games, giving the guards the tools they needed to make this year’s event a success.
Rodriguez-Rosa told The Rockaway Times that at 14 years old, she almost drowned, and it was a New York City lifeguard that came to her rescue. “Because of a lifeguard that pulled me out of that water, I feel very passionate about the work that they do, and to see them in action and the work that they do is inspiring,” she said. Since they had her back, since taking on the role of First Deputy Commissioner for Parks, Rodriguez-Rosa has backed the lifeguards, which is why she wanted NYC Parks to be involved in the event going forward. “We strongly believe in the morale. We believe in the camaraderie that this event yields. It’s nice for them to see that the Parks Department cares about their morale and wants to be a part of that. It’s a wonderful event, I see them all together here and it’s amazing,” Rodriguez-Rosa said.
And the lifeguards were happy to see her. As Hausler introduced her to the crowd before the games began, she was met with cheers and applause from lifeguards across the beach. Singer Jenna Baker sang the National Anthem to start things off as a large flag posted on the Beach 106th lifeguard chair waved on the beautiful evening. And then the games began with each shack putting up their best.
The events started with the two-man rescue, in which two lifeguards per shack were tasked with rescuing a victim. The winner of that event was 86 Shack, with a team of Sandon Karinsky and Kevin Claiborne.
The next event was the reel rescue, a team event that required using a reel to pull victims and rescuers in. The gold medal winner in that event was 117 Shack, with Pat Ayrovainen playing victim, Ramsi Harrison acting as first rescuer, and Bobby Butler, Henry Alas, Julius Colon, Johnny Torado and Kevin McConnell on the reel.
In Beach Flags, a sprint running event, Nick Benedetto of 73 Shack took gold for the men and Chloe Murphy of 59 Shack took gold for the women.
The 500M paddle had lifeguards paddling one bay on the rescue board. In that event, Kevin Waters of 117 shack took gold. The 500M swim had lifeguards swim one bay. Chris Reilly of 73 Shack took the gold for the men and Kiera Sullivan of 59 Shack took gold for the women.
In the Run Swim Run event, which had runners and a swimmer from each shack participate in a relay-style event, 86 Shack took the gold. The runners were Chris Mckie and Maxwell Sippion and the swimmer was Sandon Karinsky.
As darkness fell, so did the final event, a good ol’ game of Tug-o-War, which was an intense matchup. In the end, 73 Shack came away with the gold, with a team of Michael Potter, AJ Finnegan, Justin Hausler, Greg Pulkoski and Nick Mattera.
Although competition was fierce, with three gold medal wins, 73 Shack scored the most points at 23, earning them the coveted Commissioner’s Cup. In second was 59 Shack with 14 points and in third was 117 with 12 points. All first, second and third place winners got homemade seashell medals.
For Hausler, this year’s games, with Iris having their back, was just what they were hoping for. “This year’s Olympics were a monumental step in the direction where we want to take the NYC lifeguard program. Having the support of Parks and the commissioner was key and as lifeguards, we cannot thank the commissioner enough for her unyielding support,” he said. He hopes that this local event can eventually lead to Rockaway’s lifeguards being able to participate in the National Lifesaving Championships.
And Rodriguez-Rosa says she’s looking forward to continuing the local tradition, with plans to hold it earlier in the summer, so there’s more daylight, and with more orange Parks gear and equipment, including orange tents, to make it even more official. “It will be good to continue this, and they really look forward to it. This beach is world-renowned, and these are our first responders on the water, so that’s why we really wanted for them to see that the Parks Department cares for our lifeguards,” Rodriguez-Rosa said. “It can only get better.”
Photos by Katie McFadden and jaimehauslerphotography.com