Randy Angel

Solberg edges teammate to repeat as top female lifeguard

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LA County lifeguard Jenna Solberg was the overall women’s point winner for the second consecutive year at the Unites States Lifesaving Association National Championships at Daytona Beach, Fla.. Photo by Joel Gitelson

by Randy Angel

Going for a second straight women’s title at the United States Lifesaving Association National Lifeguard Championships, Jenna Solberg realized she had a bulls eye on her back.

She also knew the competitor with the best chance to hit the mark was her LA County Surf Lifesaving Association teammate Kelsey Cummings.

After three days of competition in Daytona Beach, Fla., Solberg defended her Women’s Overall point total on Saturday, amassing 122.375 points. The 22-year-old lifeguard from Torrance edged Cummings, 24, of El Segundo, who recorded 119.375 points.

Cummings narrowed the gap this year after finishing as runner-up in 2016 scoring 98.5 points to Solberg’s 116.5.

“It means a lot to get the overall two years in a row,” Solberg said. “I really put myself through a lot to get it though participating in almost every event. My body definitely was feeling it at the end of the competition.

“Kelsey is an amazing competitor. The fact that she’s my teammate makes it all that much more rewarding. She really pushes me to my maximum potential because I know she’s never giving up.”

Solberg said she was excited to win the paddle competition but disappointed she was dethroned as champion in her favorite event — the Ironwoman.

LA County teammates Kelsey Cummings, left, and Jenna Solberg were the top point scorers in women’s competition. Photo by Joel Gitelson

“Although I got second in the Ironwoman, I was glad that it was to Kelsey,” Solberg said. “She had an amazing race and deserved to win it hands down. She’s been working really hard at her craft this year in order to be able to clinch that title.”

Despite the impressive performances by Solberg and Cummings, it wasn’t enough for LA County to retain the team national championship.

Hosted by the Volusia Surf Lifesaving Association the USLA National Championships drew nearly 1,000 junior and professional lifeguards from across the country compete for individual and team honors in water and beach course events.

Because of work loads and scheduling conflicts, LA County had a smaller than usual team and placed second to Monmouth County, N.J. They captured the Howard Lee Trophy for the second time in the past four years (2014). LA County has won 28 titles in past 30 years.  

Monmouth County recorded 694.750 points to hold off LA County (637.500) and California State Lifeguard Association (440.250).

“Finishing 1-2 for women in the overall was super rewarding even though we didn’t win it all,” Solberg said. “It just goes to show that it really is a team sport, and having two top competitors isn’t enough to make it happen. We had such a small team this year, and everyone raced where it counted, but we just need more support and participation next year to take the title back.”

Also repeating as a champion was Tim Burdiak in the Open Men’s Surf Ski.

LA County also scored points from age division winners led by Joel Gitelson. When he wasn’t competing in the men’s 65-69 division, he was shooting photos of the event. Earlier in the month, Gitelson won Easy Reader’s annual anniversary photography contest.

Gitelson finished with nine gold medals and one silver for a total of 45.5 points, tops among 108 male age-group competitors from ages 30 to 70-plus. Teammate Ed Heinrich (70+) was second overall recording 36 points. Both were crowned Ironman champions in their respective age groups.

Joel Gitelson won three gold medals and one silver on the first day of age-group competition. Photo by Joel Gitelson

“This was the most I have ever scored in my 30 years competing with the LA County Lifeguards.” Gitelson said. “The tightness of our group and the camaraderie was the best. Kudos t go out to Ocean Lifeguard Specialist Charlotte Graham for a herculean effort to organize this trip. Rescue Boat Capt./Paramedic Jay Butki was our team Captain and did an outstanding job organizing the team to get the most out of our competitors.”

Butki won the men’s surf ski competition in the 55-59 age division.

Section Chief Lifeguard Chris Linkletter led the age-group women scoring with 39 points while competing in the 50-54 division, where she won the Ironwoman title.

Deirdre Fisher (50-54) captured the women’s board race and surf ski titles.

Other LA County team members included Jose Abasolo, Azad Al-Barazi, Coral Berry, Chappie Dehaven, Vince Fiamengo, Ann Finley, Mike Gavola, Harlan Long, Cindy Ngo, Mike O’Donnell, Adam Sandler, Tom Seth, Stephanie Vint, Connor Virgee and Dave Walters.

Prior to the professional competition, the Junior Lifeguard National Championships were held on Wednesday, Aug. 9.

The Under-19 competition, comprised of both junior and professional lifeguards ages 15-18, competed in 10 events. The Junior Guard competition consisted of three divisions — A Division for 14 and 15 year-olds, B Division for 12 and 13 year-olds, C Division for 9 through 11 years of age.

LA County winners included Holly Maine (Girls U19, beach flags, ironguard, board race, ironperson, rescue race), Emma Sainsbury-Carter (Girls U19, rescue race), Maiken Pardon (Girls B, surf swim, ironguard, run-swim-run), Casey Spencer (Boys A, beach run) and Langston Major (Boys B, beach run).

For more information and results, visit uslanationals.org.

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