Riis Lifeguards Dominate National Championship


Photo by Skip Prosser.

You can feel extra safe while swimming at Riis Park this summer. After all, the lifeguards consist of national champion lifesavers. Seven Riis Park lifeguards made the trip to Hermosa Beach, CA last weekend for the United States Lifesaving Association’s National Lifeguard Championships and had a strong showing in the west coast waters.

Federal lifeguards Tom O’Neill, Brian O’Neill, Christian Foti, Pat Kilgallen, Brendan Murphy, Brendan Woods and Danny Collins joined about a thousand others from across the country to compete in the USLA’s 2016 National Lifeguard Championships from August 11 through August 13.  The east coast boys proved they can swim with the best of them, and come on top.

Longtime competitive swimmers, Tom O’Neill, Brian O’Neill and Pat Kilgallen, have been participating in the National Lifeguard Championship for five years. As competitive swimmers in school, they saw the championships as a way to stay in shape in the summer. Christian Foti participated for the third time this summer.

One of the biggest events of the weekend for the men was the Open Surf race, which O’Neill described as a 400-meter distance swim that starts out with about 100 competitors, which is narrowed down to about 33 in preliminaries. Out of the more than 30 swimmers, Tom O’Neill placed first, making it his third national title in that event, after winning in 2012 and 2014. His fellow Riis Park guards were close behind. “The surf race was one of the highlights of the weekend because I finished first, Christian Foti finished third, Pat Kilgallen was fifth, Brendan Woods in twelfth and Danny Collins in fourteenth,” O’Neill said. The men also dominated the Run-Swim-Run, which includes two 200-meters runs and a 400-meter swim. O’Neill also came on top in this event, followed by Pat Kilgallen in second, Brian O’Neill in sixth, Daniel Collins in seventh, Christian Foti in eighth, and Brendan Woods in eleventh. Riis Park also took first in the team event, the Open Rescue Race, in which Kilgallen, Foti and the O’Neill brothers participated in. Another team consisting of Murphy, Woods and Collins came in sixth in the race. In another group event, the Taplin Relay, which incorporates a swimmer, a paddler, a surf skier and a runner, the team of Kilgallen, Foti and the O’Neill brothers took fourth. In an individual event, the Ironman, O’Neill came in fifth. He also dominated the Open Male High Point for scoring the most points of any male in the whole competition.

The men said it was a good experience all around. “It’s always a great experience. You’re swimming against the cream of the crop in California, but you meet people from all over the country and you make good friends,” Kilgallen said. “We had a lot of fun. It’s a good time. There are over a thousand lifeguards from around the country so you get to meet new people,” Foti said. “This was the first year we brought seven competitors so it was nice to have a big team. We’re all really good friends so it was fun to cheer each other on and it’s fun when you do well,” O’Neill said.

The challenge continues for Foti and Tom O’Neill, as they have both been selected as part of Team USA for the World Lifesaving Championship which will be held in the Netherlands in early September.