Long Beach lifeguard James Canner is used to rescuing swimmers, but on Aug. 10, he found himself playing the role of the helpless victim as he waded in the Pacific Ocean, 120 meters from the shore of Manhattan Beach, Calif.
Canner, 18, was not permitted to do anything more than kick his legs as he waited for fellow lifeguard Tim Cabasino to “rescue” him during the finals of the “landline” event at the 2013 United States Lifesaving Association National Lifeguard Championships.
“Long Beach is having a great start,” Canner said he heard the announcer remark as Cabasino, who competed on Binghamton University’s Division I swim team, raced toward him. He could see that Long Beach had a lead over the eight other teams in the race.
Once there, Cabasino, 22, handed Canner a buoy, which was attached to a long rope that stretched to the beach. Then, he signaled their teammates, Phil Cabasino, 25, Tim’s brother, and PJ Gillespie, 24, who were on land, to pull them in.
“It’s tough because you’re so excited, you want to jump off the line and help out, but you just have to kick,” said Canner, who swam for Chaminade High School in Mineola and plans to walk on the University of Delaware’s swim team.
The race doesn’t end when they reach the shore. Since the victim is not permitted to stand, Gillespie and the Cabasino brothers had to lift Canner and carry him across the finish line for the win.
The whole race was over within three minutes, but the pursuit of a gold medal in an open division national lifeguard tournament has been a long one for Long Beach.
Long Beach lifeguards have been competing in USLA events since the ’70s, but this is the first time they’ve ever finished first in an open event at nationals, Phil Cabasino said. For the past three years, the team placed in the top five for the landline race, the tournament’s most popular event, but until now, gold had eluded them.
“It was our time,” Phil Cabasino said. “Things kind of fell into place and our hard work paid off.”
The team also won gold in the “rescue” race. In this event, Canner, the “victim,” had to race out to a flag located 120 meters off shore. Once he hit the flag, then Tim Cabasino could swim out to “save” him, but instead of getting pulled in by their teammates on land, Tim Cabasino had to single-handedly get Canner to shore. He wrapped a buoy around him, then swam, tugging Canner’s “dead weight.”
“It’s not just physically, but also mentally exhausting,” Tim Cabasino said. “When you’re coming in you feel like you’re not moving, because you have that extra weight pulling against you.”
In his seven years patrolling Long Beach’s beaches, Tim Cabasino said these types of rescues are more common than landline ones.
In addition to working 45 hours per week as lifeguards, Tim Cabasino said he and Canner trained by swimming 90 minutes each morning before their shift, lifted weights three days per week and ran on the beach. The team also raised $5,000 by selling T-shirts to local businesses to cover their travel expenses and replace their equipment, which was destroyed during superstorm Sandy.
On Tuesday night at City Hall, Long Beach officials presented them with a proclamation to recognize their achievement.
“It was a huge victory for us and for the community,” Phil Cabasino said. “No one ever remembers second or third place. People remember the winners.”