By BRIAN CUNNIFF
Two Cape May County lifeguards have been chosen for the United States Lifesaving Association’s Youth National Team and will compete in the 2019 International Surf Rescue Challenge in Durban, South Africa, in late September.
Gavin Loughlin, a 17-year-old from the Diamond Beach Beach Patrol, and Bella Taylor, a 16-year-old from the Wildwood Beach Patrol, were named to the team based off their performances at the USLA Junior National Championships held in Virginia Beach earlier this month.
Also named to the national team was Egg Harbor Township resident Joey Tepper of the Longport Beach Patrol.
The team will be in South Africa for about 10 days. The competition begins Sept. 28.
TAYLOR’S SECOND TRIP TO WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS
Taylor is a member of the USLA Youth National Team for the second time. She participated in the event two years ago in New Zealand.
Taylor cemented her second selection to the national team by winning the ironperson (run, swim, paddle, surfski) event and rescue board race at junior nationals. She was also second in the ironguard and surf swim race and finished fifth in the run-swim-run event.
Taylor was a rookie lifeguard in Wildwood this summer. She worked until the end of July before heading home to Florida to participate in a competition there before later heading to junior nationals. She begins her junior year at American Heritage School in Plantation, Fla., this week.
“To get picked to nationals is amazing,” Taylor said. “It’s like the icing on the cake. It’s the best feeling ever because you feel like all the hard work you’ve done has paid off. I get to go on this trip and experience and new place, a new culture and new people. Something like this really makes everything you’ve done worthwhile.”
Taylor is expected to compete in a variety of events at the international competition. Two years ago, she only participated in swimming events.
“Going two years ago opened my eyes to what I might be able to do if I worked even harder,” she said. “I wasn’t really experienced in a lot of events so I just did swimming last time. It was a great experience and it was a lot of fun.”
LOUGHLIN: “DIDN’T KNOW WHAT USLA WAS”
Loughlin, a Blue Bell, Pa., resident and rising senior at Germantown Academy High School, joined the Diamond Beach Beach Patrol for the first time this summer, following a path led by his older sister, Scarlett.
The Diamond Beach Beach Patrol is not a member of the South Jersey Lifeguard Chiefs Association and, as such, cannot send competitors to many of the South Jersey lifeguard races. But the patrol did receive USLA certification prior to this summer.
“I didn’t know what USLA was,” Loughlin said with a laugh. “I just knew we’d do the Red Bull (Surf and Rescue) Races and some of the other races.”
Loughlin competed in the USLA Junior Regional competition in Wildwood without expectations. But he won two events and won his heat in another, qualifying for junior nationals.
At the junior national event, Loughlin finished second in the paddleboard, the ironguard and the swim and was fifth in the run-swim-run.
“Some people told me they thought I had a chance to make the (national) team after that,” said Loughlin, a member of the swim team at Germantown Academy.
Loughlin said he has never traveled out of the country before.
“But I always thought South Africa would be a cool place to go,” he said. “I’ve never been out of the country but that would be at the top of my list. It’ll be cool to see a lot of new things and it’ll be cool to meet people from all over the country that we’ll be competing with. And then we’ll get to experience a lot of stuff on our off days.”
COST, TIME AWAY FROM SCHOOL
While the USLA is covering some of the costs, Taylor and Loughlin will be responsible for paying for a good portion as well.
Taylor said she plans to start a personal fund-raiser to help cover some of her costs while also raising money for a local charity in South Africa. The Wildwood Beach Patrol also has plans to begin a local fund-raiser for her.
The Diamond Beach Beach Patrol has begun a T-shirt sale campaign to help raise money for Loughlin.
Both lifeguards will be forced to miss at least a week of school, if not more.
“I’m excited to go, but I know I have to work hard to keep my grades up,” Taylor said.
“Our school is really good with stuff like this,” Loughlin said. “They encourage you to go and experience it.”