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Highlights of 2017

Every year when the season slows down we review our season to see how we did. I enjoy the process because it helps show how the Beach Patrol is an entire safety and educational network, as opposed to merely the lifeguard service for the city of Galveston.  The process also helps target areas we can improve on next season. Awfully proud of our crew for all the work that went into these accomplishments! Here are a few of the highlights:

  • Maintained and posted annual statistics with the United States Lifesaving Association. We use these to target areas for improvement and to help show what we do. This year we performed 124,556 preventions, 123 rescues, 160 lost children reunited with families, 1,480 medical responses, and 2,842 enforcement actions
  • Maintained 32 lifeguard towers on beach for the 7 month season
  • Daily patrols vehicles scheduled on the west end from Memorial – Labor Day. We had staffing issues this year that were a challenge, but we hit this goal for the most part
  • Patrolled San Luis Pass with a UTV on weekends from Memorial – Labor Day weekends. They focused on enforcement of our “no swimming” ordinance in the dangerous areas
  • Revised Policy and Procedure manual, a task we do each season to keep us current, efficient, and focused
  • More than doubled last year’s goal by providing talks to 25,900 kids in our School Water Safety Outreach Program.
  • Facilitated the development, training and growth of Texas coastal lifeguarding programs by providing a train-the-trainer course to 12 Beach Patrol managers from South Padre, Cameron County, Corpus Christi, and Port Aransas Beach Patrols
  • At least Beach Patrol representative served the community on Galveston College L.E. Academy board, Better Parks of Galveston, Children’s Museum, and the Galveston Marine Response team.
  • Provided a Basic Water Rescue course for 12 surf instructors and all of the Galveston Fire Department.
  • Increase Social Media footprint. We increased followers from 4,568 to 6,167 from 2016 to 2017, a 26% increase
  • Added movie promo and mass text campaigns to our recruiting efforts
  • Included tourist ambassador training in all three of our Lifeguard Academies.
  • Maintained prominent positions in national and international organizations (Davis- President of United States Lifesaving Association (USLA), Secretary General Americas Region of International Lifesaving Association; Pryor- Chair of USLA Certification Committee, President of Gulf Region of USLA), Harrison on USLA Textbook Revision Committee and Vice Chair of Heroic Acts Committee
  • Conducted an annual review of Park Board Disaster Response Plan
  • Initiate a community based education program called “Wave Watchers”. 11 trained, over 600 hours service completed by volunteers
  • Helped facilitate “Senior Beach Walk” program. Seniors completed more than 20 walks averaging about 7 individuals per walk
  • Junior Lifeguard Program- Increased participants from 104 to 114, 8% inc
  • Emergency Response 24/7/365 and vehicle patrols 10 months out of the year
  • Sent Lifeguard and Jr Guard team of 22 to nationals. Juniors had 15 top 12 finishes. Lifeguard team had 15 top 10 finishes and won 10 medals.
  • Hurricane Harvey- 4 teams helped make 127 urban flood rescues

Mary’s Rescue

Last Saturday we almost lost several lives, including one of our lifeguards.

The incident started relatively harmlessly. 5 people were swimming between the Pleasure Pier and the 27th street groin. There was a spot where there was a very weak rip current. A gentle drift that pushing offshore. Most people wouldn’t even notice it. But the 5 people were having a bit of difficulty returning.

The lifeguard from the nearest tower went to check. When the rescue truck made the scene they called in that no one was in distress but that Supervisor Mary Stewart was going to go in and help the guard move them closer to shore.

As they do at times, things escalated rapidly. Three of the victims, escorted by the tower guard’s made it in with minimal help. This is normal stuff. Two of them, a child and a man who went to help the group to shore, were floating on Mary’s rescue tube as she towed them to shore. It was, at this point, a simple rescue like the multitude our guards make each year.

But suddenly Mary was pulled underwater. It seems that the man started panicking. She was instantly catapulted from a situation where she was making a routine rescue, like she has done scores of times in her 11 year career as a lifeguard, to a struggle for her very life and the life of the two people she was trying to help.

As she tried to hold the child up she grappled with the man. There were times she felt like she’d have to make the choice between letting go of the child to try and save herself, or giving up and going down. All three lives hung in the balance.

In Mary’s words, “…someone’s life was slipping from the palm of my hand, as I struggled to maintain mine. The feeling of being someone’s only hope to live, while trying to hold onto your [own life] at the same time is indescribable. In an instance your whole life flashes before your eyes; every struggle, every tear, every laugh, every smile. You don’t realize your own strength until you come face to face with your greatest weakness.”

In the end, her grit, training, fitness level, and fellow lifeguards gave this near tragedy a happy ending. Everyone made it to shore and lived to tell.

Every lifeguard who works enough time faces what Mary faced. A moment when you realize that fitness, training, and good intentions only get you so far. You have to dig deep beyond the physical part of you and draw strength from…somewhere else. And then, after passing though the crucible, you realize what you are and what you are actually capable of.

Mary later wrote, “For those of you fighting unbearable battles or drowning in despair- refuse to give up, refuse to sink… Your real hero is right there holding on to your…hand. And if you hold on long enough , you may just get the chance to be [a hero yourself.”

Ellie Cherryholmes

One of the things that’s such a privilege about my job is getting to see so many people enter our program at 10 as a Junior Lifeguard, and blossom into truly exceptional people as they move up through the program and enter adulthood. Allow me to introduce you to Ellie Cherryhomes.

Ellie is the youngest of three and was raised by a single mother, who is one of our biggest supporters and is always there for Ellie. At times her mom has held down three separate jobs to make things work. Ellie also has a father and three half siblings in Equatorial Guinea, which may have contributed to her broad world view.

As she finishes her third year of guarding, Ellie’s accomplishments are impressive. She recently graduated 5th in her class from Ball High School. She won a “Research and Design” internship at UTMB. She was the National Honor Society President and the Vice President of the Technical Honor Society. She was also Captain of the Water Polo Team.

6 hours after graduating she was on a plane to California. She was one of the two first recipients  of the Ben Carlson Scholarship, given in memory of the Newport Beach Lifeguard that died tragically a year ago during a big wave rescue. His death and her first big rescue happened on the same weekend and she feels a connection. She received a fairly large sum of cash for school, which will help her pay her way through college. She also received clothes, a wetsuit, and a custom board from Hurley which won’t hurt either!

Beach Patrol has been a big part of Ellie’s life. She describes it as, “…more of a lifestyle than a job”, and feels it has given her a good set of friends and connection to the ocean. Not many of her peers have the same qualifications and experience. Nor have they been “entrusted with such a high level of responsibility- not just for people, but for the ocean and nature in general”. She feels this has given her a real leg up on college applications and other awards she’s received.

Through her connection with Beach Patrol, sports, and the ocean she found a mentor in Joe Cerdas, a full time Supervisor/Officer. Joe is the leader of a stand up paddle group that has been branded “Ocean Tribe”. With Joe and his dedicated band of athletes she’s competed all over the state and elsewhere.

Most recently, Ellie won a very prestigious scholarship from National Geographic, where she spent a month traveling in northern India with a group and three professional photo journalists. Staying with farmers, teaching in schools, and being exposed to all kinds of new things was “life altering”.

It will be interesting to see where Ellie ends up. We do know that she’s the best that Galveston and the Beach Patrol has to offer. Wherever she goes she’ll move forward with integrity, genuineness, and a real commitment to do more than scratch the surface of our lived experience.

BBQ Thank You

A light breeze cooled the crowd as dusk set in on the street outside of the Press Box. The music played a mix that had a little something for everyone. People mingled, ate plates of BBQ, told stories, perused the silent auction items, talked trash, and all seemed to be having a good time.

The beach party of the year went well. For me, on this 17th year we’ve had this fundraiser, things seemed to fall in place. Layers of groups all mixed together. There were rookie lifeguards doing most of the work, recurrent guards and their families, Beach Maintenance and Beach Park employees, a reunion of guards that worked for us years ago, Galveston partiers, people who work the beach in various capacities, city and county officials and employees, people who just came out to support what we do, and 10 to 15 year old Junior Lifeguards running around.

A lot of people and groups put in a ton of work to make this happen and make it run smoothly. There are too many to include here, but I and we sincerely thank all of them and all of the people who came out to support and donate so generously. It looks like we were able to raise quite a bit of money to support our scholarship program, our Junior Guard families that bring their kids to the national guard competition, lifeguard exchange program, specialty equipment, and a number of other good things that we do but can’t provide from a governmental budget.

But more than just a fundraiser, this event has come to signify a pause in the summer madness. It’s a chance for all of us that work so hard on the beach and that deal with tourists in other capacities to relax for a minute. We get to take a breath, spend some time together, and have a little fun before diving back in. For me it’s a chance to acknowledge that no matter how koo-koo we Galvestonians can be, there is something special about living here. A chance to remember how much I genuinely like so many people that live on this island.

It’s also a marker. Junior lifeguards that attended the first BBQ fundraiser event at 10 years of age are now pushing 30 and are teaching the next generation how to be lifeguards while instilling those intangible values that beach people around the world share. Teaching them to enjoy life, honor each other, live simply, be of service, put another’s life before your own when needed, work with the water/environment instead of imposing yourself on it, and to respect the water and marine environment.

So before I dive back into the second half of the summer along with the 100 guards I’m privileged to work with, let us say a collective thank you to everyone who supported this event and supports us throughout the years and decades. It means more than we could ever express and enables us to do the work we do.