2017-07-27 / Front Page

Region's Best Lifeguards

By Sandy McGee


The 41st annual Newport Invitational Lifeguard Tournament was held at Easton's Beach on Tuesday, July 25 and Wednesday, July 26. Among the 22 event competitions were Run-Row-Run for men and Run- Paddle-Run for women. At right Easton's Beach lifeguard Matt Cunningham wins the Run-Paddle-Run event on the first day of the tournament. (Photos by Meri Keller) The 41st annual Newport Invitational Lifeguard Tournament was held at Easton's Beach on Tuesday, July 25 and Wednesday, July 26. Among the 22 event competitions were Run-Row-Run for men and Run- Paddle-Run for women. At right Easton's Beach lifeguard Matt Cunningham wins the Run-Paddle-Run event on the first day of the tournament. (Photos by Meri Keller) On a cloudy morning in Newport on July 25, two Easton’s Beach lifeguards, Jared Cicchelli and Colin Martin, adjusted their swimming goggles and caps before leaping high into the rising surf and swimming toward a bright orange buoy.

Meanwhile, 16-year-old Jillian Valente of East Greenwich sprinted down the beach alongside two teammates from Easton’s Beach Surf Patrol. Within minutes, all the lifeguards, on the shore and in the sea, became tiny dots as they prepared for the 41st annual Newport Invitational Lifeguard Tournament.

Each year, the tournament brings together the best lifeguards to compete in a variety of athletic, life-saving contests, including a Run-Swim-Run, Ocean Rescue, One Mile Paddle and a Torpedo Buoy Relay Race.

“I like the competition part of it,” said Patrick Wygant, lifeguard supervisor for Easton’s Beach and tournament coordinator since 2014.

Started by Easton’s Beach lifeguard Ray May in 1977, the competition began as a contest for local bragging rights, but grew in later years to include teams from outside Rhode Island. Five teams, totaling 50 lifeguards, competed at this year’s tournament held July 25-26 at Easton’s Beach.

This year’s tournament included teams from Easton’s Beach, Newport; Second Beach, Middletown; Narragansett Town Beach, Narragansett; Nauset Beach, Orleans, Mass.; and the Long Beach Township Beach, Long Beach Island, N.J.

“I love the group camaraderie,” said Ryan Lazar, 37, of Newport, a lifeguard for 20 years. “It’s not just our group, but the other groups that come down and compete against the best Rhode Island has to offer, and elsewhere.”

The contests tested the limits of a lifeguard’s physical abilities. The Mermaid Medley consisted of three women from each team completing a 440-yard run, a 400- yard swim and a 450-yard paddle, while the Iron Man required male competitors to run 350 yards, swim 400 yards, paddle 800 yards and row approximately 800 yards.

Residents and tourists walking the Cliff Walk on Wednesday morning might have witnessed the tournament first-hand. The aptly-named 40 Steps contest took place with one man and one woman from each team running 1.1 miles through the Cliff Walk. From the 40 Steps, lifeguards entered the water and swam 1,400 yards back to the beach before running another 300 yards to the finish line.


(Photo by Meri Keller) (Photo by Meri Keller) For some lifeguards, the tournament is not just about athleticism. “It helps with team-building, camaraderie, and sportsmanship,” said Easton’s Beach lifeguard and team captain Matt Cunningham, 29, of Newport, who won the Most Valuable Player award last year.

There are a few rules for the tournament. Each team must provide their own equipment and team captain. All participants must also be certified lifeguards at their respective beaches. The winners received plaques and bragging rights.

The various events also offered valuable opportunities for lifeguards to practice safety procedures and rescues, which are priceless in a real beach emergency. “The tournament is a big way to test life-saving skills,” said Wygant.

In the One-Man Rescue event, each competitor swam 200 yards to their “victim” and handed them a rescue tube, commonly called a “torp.” While swimming back to shore, the victim was permitted to kick, but was required to keep at least one hand on the rescue tube. Each competitor then had to carry their victim across the finish line. Victims are not permitted to take more than two steps when getting out of the water.


Among the demanding events are the One-Woman Rescue and the Mermaid Medley. (Photo by Meri Keller) Among the demanding events are the One-Woman Rescue and the Mermaid Medley. (Photo by Meri Keller) “Everything we do here is to help us in real-life situations,” said Valente, this year’s youngest competitor.

“[The events] can humble you for real-life situations,” Lazar said. “There are people that do well on the beach that don’t do well here. It’s a lot of motivation.”

To become certified in Rhode Island, lifeguards are required to complete a surf test every year (or a non-surf test for pools every two years). The surf test is like the tournament events, with a three-person team rescue using a torp and reel (rope), and a board rescue 100 yards out. A swim endurance test will be added for 2018 certification.

Lifeguard certification requirements also include:

All candidates must be at least 16 and must present a photo ID every time they apply for certification.

Applicants under the age of 18 must be accompanied by a parent or guardian who must sign the application/ waiver form.

All candidates must have successfully completed courses and hold valid cards in Lifeguard Training, First Aid, and CPR.

For more information about becoming a lifeguard in Rhode Island, visit the Rhode Island Division of Parks and Recreation website at http://www.riparks.com/Lifeguard- Certification.html.

Invitation Lifeguard Tournament Results

Winning teams:
Narragansett Town Beach,
Narragansett, 497 points
Easton’s Beach,
Newport, 475 points
Long Beach Township Beach,
Long Beach Island, N.J.,  464 points
Top male finisher:
Dave Cannon of Narragansett, a lifeguard at Narragansett Town Beach
Top female finisher:
Shannon Kane of Long Beach Township, N.J., a lifeguard at Long Beach Township Beach

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