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Jones Beach Lifeguard Corps
article in Oyster Bay Pilot
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Post article in Oyster Bay Pilot Posted: Fri Nov 09, 2007 4:12 pm
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From Shaping Lives to Saving Lives

Dr. Dennis O'Hara -front center- and the 2007 Jones Beach Lifeguards. Photos by Tom Gould.
Oyster Bay High School Principal, Dr. Dennis O'Hara, has dedicated his life to helping shape the lives of the students of Oyster Bay East Norwich. What many people do not know is that Dr. O'Hara spends his summers saving lives. Since 1995, Dr. O'Hara has been a lifeguard on Long Island's ocean shores.

It is common knowledge that academic education goes hand in hand with physical fitness. Dr. O'Hara is someone who leads by example. While hitting the books in pursuit of his doctoral program, Dr. O'Hara has also maintained the fitness necessary to keep one of the world's most demanding jobs for 11 seasons.

The process to become a lifeguard is rigorous. On the first Sunday of June every year, candidates for lifeguard must take a grueling test of strength and endurance.

It begins in a pool where you must swim one hundred yards in a minute and 15 seconds. Anyone who fails this is immediately eliminated and not allowed to continue. Next the contestants jump in the ocean and must swim a distance of 4 to 5 hundred yards. There is no time limit set, but swimmers must be consistent and not break stroke. Then, it is out on the sandy beach where the prospective lifeguards must run three quarters of a mile in less than 6 minutes. Failing to meet the required time results in another round of elimination. The last leg of the test is back in the pool where candidates must swim the length of the pool and then retrieve a water-filled dummy using the cross chest carry. Again there is a time constraint. Anyone taking longer than one minute and thirty seconds is disqualified.

However, even those completing all portions of the test successfully are not guaranteed a job. There are only so many positions that need to be filled at each beach. If Jones Beach needs 30 lifeguards and 50 pass the test, only the top 30 will get the job.

Returning lifeguards are not automatically given their job back. They must show that they have kept themselves in peak physical condition. Every May they meet at Nassau Community College where they must do a timed 100-yard swim and must be able to run a quarter mile in 2 minutes.

Dr. O'Hara just completed his 11th season as lifeguard. He spent his first year working a pool in Montauk. He then worked at Sunken Meadow State Park. It was when he did a shift at Hither Hills on the ocean in Montauk that Dr. O'Hara knew he wanted to be on the ocean shore. This summer marked the sixth season as lifeguard on Jones Beach.

In those years, Dr. O'Hara has saved 10 people. His most memorable save came when a 10-year-old boy got caught in the riptide off Jones Beach. A woman nearby tried to help the boy and found that the tide was too much for her. Dr. O'Hara and a lifeguard at the next stand responded together. By the time they pulled the two people out of the ocean the tide had carried them all three stands down the beach.

How much longer can Dr. O'Hara return to the beach every summer? The senior lifeguard at Jones Beach is 80 years old and has been a lifeguard since the 1940s. Anything is possible when you keep your mind alert and your body in shape.
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