Photo courtesy of Patrick Kilgallen
Lifeguards from Jacob Riis Park competed in the USLA National Lifeguard Championships in Daytona Beach, Fla.

Lifeguards Patrick Kilgallen and Thomas O’Neill competed in the United States Lifesaving Association (USLA) National Lifeguard Championships four years ago and have never missed a competition since.

Kilgallen, 21, of Rockaway and O’Neill, 25, of Malverne, Long Island have been lifeguards for six and eight years respectively and work at Jacob Riis Park during the summer. They were persuaded by a friend to register for the USLA National Lifeguard Championships and this summer, from Aug. 6 to  8, they competed and swam their way toward victory in a number of events in Daytona Beach, Florida.

The Jacob Riis Park team, which also included O’Neill’s brother Brian and lifeguard Christian Foti, competed in the rescue race, surf race, run swim run, board rescue and iron man.

“Our team, though we’re small, do quite well,” O’Neill said.

O’Neill, Kilgallen and Foti swept the board, earning first, second and third place respectively for the run swim run event. The Riis Park team also excelled during the surf race where they took second, third and fourth place. Thomas O’Neill, the only member to compete in the iron man, which includes a combination of swim, paddle and rescue races, placed fourth out of 16 final competitors.

“Training for the championships was a grueling process that included multiple training sessions each day,” Kilgallen said. “Both in the pool, ocean and weight room we train all year round to prepare for the championships. We have a small, tight-knit training group at Riis Park which is among the top training groups in the country.”

Competing in these lifeguard events has allowed Kilgallen and O’Neill to travel all around the world to put their hours of training to use. Last year, O’Neill traveled to Montpellier, France, to compete in the Lifesaving World Championships and this summer, Kilgallen and O’Neill will travel to Maroochydore, Australia, from Aug. 27 to Sept. 6 for the International Surf Rescue Challenge where they will represent team USA. Kilgallen and O’Neill were two of 16 members chosen to represent their country against top competitors from Australia, New Zealand, Great Britain, South Africa and Japan.

“Pat and I, as well as my brother and Christian, we’re really passionate about the competition side of lifeguarding,” O’Neill said. “We love the competition side of things and the opportunity it provided us by being able to travel the world and compete in countries like Japan, France, Australia.”

Though training and competing in these championships is challenging and demanding, O’Neill has several rescue stories that illustrate how difficult and important his job as a lifeguard is. This summer, O’Neill rescued a man at Riis Park who got caught in a riptide and hit his head on a rock jetty. The man “was really drunk,” which made the rescue more difficult.

O’Neill also rescued a man who suffered a severe heart attack. The man was not able to hold onto the lifesaving device, making it harder for him and his partner to carry the 200-pound man out of the water. He then had to perform CPR on the man for 10 minutes before he regained consciousness.

“We love protecting the public and making sure that everyone goes home safely,” O’Neill said. “That’s really what the job is all about.”

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