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Lifeguard duty is a family affair for Columbia siblings

University of Maryland Baltimore CountyUniversity of Maryland, College Park

Some of Colin and Shelby Stang's favorite childhood memories are set in Ocean City, where the siblings and the rest of their family gathered with cousins at their grandparents' apartment. Days were spent playing in the surf and enjoying the boardwalk.

The Long Reach High School graduates and Columbia residents still spend their summers in Ocean City with their cousins, but they're not playing on the beach — they're working.

Colin, 21, and Shelby, 19, along with four of their cousins, are all lifeguards for the Ocean City Beach Patrol. The six share two apartments together, and now spend their days keeping watch on the beach and their nights enjoying the boardwalk.

"It was an easy decision," Colin said of working at Ocean City as lifeguards. Both he and his sister have experience as pool lifeguards, and both were competitive swimmers throughout their childhoods for the Retriever Aquatic Club, based at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, and later at their respective universities — Colin at the University of Maryland, College Park until the program was cut last year and his sister at the University of Rhode Island.

"It was pretty obvious we were not going to work in restaurants or in surf shops, but out in the water," said Colin, who has been a beach lifeguard three years now with cousins Kevin and Jack Stang.

"My swimming background was a huge factor," he said. "It gives me confidence in the water. I understand the beach and am not necessarily scared of the water at all."

Shelby needed a little more convincing. She wasn't quite sure she could pass the strenuous lifeguard testing, despite being a strong swimmer.

But she and two female cousins, Emily and Addie Stang, each passed and are all enjoying their first year as guards.

"It is the best job ever," Shelby said. "I just love doing it. I am challenged every day. I never know what is going to happen."

Longtime family friend Jennifer Frediani of Ellicott City met the Stang siblings through her children and swimming. She now makes sure she finds a spot on the beach near one of the Stang family members when she's in Ocean City.

"It takes a special person," Frediani said of being a lifeguard. "It's not just swimming. They work really, really hard."

Colin said the difference between being a beach lifeguard and being a pool lifeguard is profound. "I had maybe one or two pool rescues. I've had over 50 rescues in three years" at the beach, he said.

Lifeguards work 51/2 days a week and are required to do daily workouts. While in the chair, guards must always be alert. They are allowed only a radio — no cellphones. And they have to be prepared for many kinds of emergencies.

"People boogie boarding or body surfing hit their head on the sand, or they are running into the water and dive head-first and don't know how shallow it is," Colin said. "I've had a couple rescues that got my heart rate up."

"I am always looking for something to fix and making sure things are right on my beach — no alcohol," Shelby said. "Every day, I'm always nervous at some point. You have to be on your game at all times."

The relaxing times spent hanging out with friends and family balance out the anxious times, both say.

"It is a great opportunity," Colin said. "I am happy all six of us worked it out and live together. Our grandparents are really proud of us."

"It brings us closer together," Shelby said. "We come back from work and are all excited to talk about the day. We're all on the same page.

"I'll definitely come back," she said. "We all have a couple more years in us."

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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