Fort Lauderdale Ocean Rescue sent a small but mighty force of five lifeguards to compete in the United States Lifesaving Association National Championships and put up a memorable performance.
With over 50 USLA chapters from all over the country, they converge on South Padre Island, Texas for individual and team competitions.
The event brought together nearly 1,000 professional and junior lifeguards who had come out of COVID-19 lockdown to put their lifesaving skills to the test. The lifeguards were eager to show off their skills after last year’s national championships were cancelled, with the USLA partnering with the Padre Beach Rescue Association to run the competition.
The LA County Surf Lifesaving Association has once again demonstrated its dominance by adding its 45th Howard Lee Trophy Award as the Top A Team in the USA, followed by Sussex County, Delaware and the Hampton Lifeguard Association, New York .
In the B division team competition, New York’s Reese Park won the Lacora Trophy, followed by Fort Lauderdale Ocean Rescue.
Fort Lauderdale lifeguard Casey Francis achieved a stellar performance by earning 151 open points and establishing herself as the women’s overall points leader.
The Pompano Beach resident was followed by Kelsey Cummings of the LA County Surf Life Saving Association (135.5 points), Alexandra Santar of Sussex County (115.75 points) and Harry Peterson of Palm Beach County (104 points).
Alice Henry of Dania Beach Ocean Rescue was eighth and Alex O’Connor of Fort Lauderdale Ocean Rescue was tenth.
Winning the overall points title highlights the versatility of Francis’ skills in many lifesaving disciplines. In the three-day tournament she had 14 women’s events and Francis competed in her 12 of them and scored points.
A former U.S. Olympic Trials qualifier, Pennsylvania State University swimming record holder and two-time record holder, she has won first places in the Rescue Race, Taplin Relay, American Ironwoman, Landline Rescue, and competed internationally. Placed 2nd in Iron Woman and Board Relay. She also won the prestigious title in Surf She Race, Run She Swim She Run, Surf Boat where she placed third.
“It was a lot of fun and it wasn’t what I expected, even if that was my goal,” said Francis. “It can happen on any day. We had a good pairing in three days of competition. I was very competitive in college, so I don’t want to take this too seriously. I want to enjoy every season and I don’t care what happens
Francis has been a professional lifeguard for four years and is still learning and improving his competitive skills. Sharing the glory with your teammates is the most rewarding aspect of the competition. The relationships forged during sports competitions add to the overall experience.
“I love team events and it’s my favorite part when I compete,” she said. I surprised myself, I knew Kelsey (Cummings) in college when she was swimming in Michigan and when I was at Penn State, and we competed against each other in the Big Ten competition. , swam with the Open Water USA Select Team.We know each other very well and Kelsey is a great friend and a great competitor.
In the women’s open surfboard event, South Florida made it to the top three, led by Boca Raton Ocean Rescue’s Sherry Griffiths and her twin sister Sherry Griffiths.
Dania Beach lifeguard Alice Henry and Palm Beach County’s Tiffany Lakas came in second, followed by Alexander O’Connor and Francis’ Fort Lauderdale Ocean Rescue Team.
The Griffith twins are the undisputed queens of surfboard racing, and their reign began in 1999 when they won their first national title in Cape May, New Jersey. The sisters are firefighters/paramedics in the city of Boca Raton. They continue to impress their competitors.
Shelley Griffiths said, “We are in good health and feel very fortunate to be able to compete in the Open Surf Boat Race every year.” Anything can happen and it usually does.I think the best part about racing is the unexpected.Of course, a little luck always helps.I think it’s the toughest competition for any team. But South Florida is consistently tough.I don’t know if it’s good, but it’s a lot of fun paddling with the twins.”
Fort Lauderdale Ocean Rescue’s Captain Alex O’Connor finished an impressive 2nd place in the American Ironwoman event behind teammate Francis.
“Casey has done a phenomenal job and won the High Point title with over 150 points, more than most teams,” said O’Connor. “To my knowledge, she was the first Fort Lauderdale lifeguard to receive this award and has won four gold medals. Capable and she remains very humble and still very new to the sport. It’s another animal.”
Partnering with Francis in several competitive events proved to be a formidable combination. The duo finished 1st in the land rescue race, 3rd in the surf boat race and 4th in the board rescue race.
“We coordinated well with the event and beat it at the Landline Rescue race with two male lifeguards on our team,” says O’Connor. “There were qualifying, semi-finals and finals, so it was challenging and exhausting.”
O’Connor is a two-time defending champion in surfboard events, along with former partner Brittany Austin. After a slow start, the duo recovered to take third place. There was no shame in falling behind such tough competition.
“The Griff sisters have been together for over 20 years and the experience has really paid off,” O’Connor said. They have the last two USLA Nationals on different terms They surf better than most of us They are the Queens of Surfboats and have won 18 times Lifeguards look up to them and they are great lifeguards, great competitors and great people.”
Chris Hoch of Fort Lauderdale Ocean Rescue and Kevin Jones of Boca Raton won the Men’s Open Surf Boat Race. This was Hoch’s third domestic title. Mitch McCrady and Philip McCrady are the remaining members of the Fort Lauderdale team who enjoyed an impressive performance and are already planning to bring a bigger team to the next USLA National Championship.