Years ago, the original inhabitants of this part of the world held periodic gatherings, which included athletic competitions that highlighted skills needed to survive and thrive.

These were opportunities to share information and new ideas, forge and maintain social connections, and renew commitment to a way of life. As open-water lifeguards we continued that tradition.

Last weekend, a small group of Galveston competitors traveled to the United States Lifesaving Association Gulf Coast Regional Championships in Port Aransas. Representatives from the Cameron County Beach Patrol, the South Padre Island Beach Patrol, the Galveston Island Beach Patrol, and Port Aransas Beach Patrol all participated. Yes, Galveston dominated.

But more importantly, the next step is during the second week in August, when a group of guards from Texas will compete in the association’s National Lifeguard Championships in Virginia Beach, Virginia. For years and years Galveston has been the only group from our region, but now we’ll have four teams, which together, comprise “Team Texas.”

Open-water lifeguarding is unique among the emergency services in that we’re able to prevent accidents to a very large extent. So far this year, Galveston lifeguards alone have made over 100,000 preventative actions. That’s 110,000 people moved out of potentially dangerous or life-threatening situations.

But there are some things that can’t be prevented. And that’s why our profession also demands the highest level of physical conditioning of all the first responder professions.

When a lifeguard trains he/she is doing much more than staying in shape. Of all the rescues made by Galveston lifeguards last year alone, most were made with minimal equipment. Lifeguards rely heavily on exceptional United States Lifesaving Association training, local knowledge, mental and emotional fortitude, and their physical abilities. Every rescue is a race against time, and every guard is an athlete. That’s where competition comes in.

Participating in lifeguard sport competitions and daily training sessions hones skills used daily by professional lifeguards, and gives lifeguards something to reach for. Lifesaving sport is also an opportunity to showcase our skills for the public we protect. National competitors are an example for all the guards they work with at their local beach. And the same applies for junior lifeguard competitors, many of whom will be the lifeguards and lifesaving sport superstars of tomorrow.

Locally, we have lifeguard sport competitions every Sunday for guards and every Friday during the junior guard program throughout the summer, and each guard participates in physical and skills training every day they work before they head out to the towers.

Because of all the prevention, training, lifeguard standards and public education by the United States Lifesaving Association and its certified agencies, we boast an impressive statistic. Your chances of drowning in a United States Lifesaving Association certified agency’s beach are 1 in 18 million. Galveston faces more challenges than many beaches, but maintaining “advanced” level certification from the association means that we’re more prepared for the inevitable than many of our counterparts at other beaches.

Peter Davis is chief of the Galveston Island Beach Patrol. The views in this column are Davis’ and do not necessarily represent those of the Beach Patrol, Galveston Park Board of Trustees or any other entity.

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