One sign of approaching summer in Newport Beach is the annual spring tryouts for seasonal lifeguard positions.
As regular as the spring equinox, the tryouts pit young hopefuls against a rigorous battery of physical and mental tasks, to test their lifeguarding mettle and determine just who will get into the city’s lifeguard corps.
But this year, something happened that has never happened before: the top score in the tryouts was posted by Maddy McLaren, 17 – the first woman ever to claim the No. 1 spot.
This year, 42 males and 11 females decided to take on the challenge and try out for the city’s lifeguard academy, according to the city. If they made the first cut, they earned a chance to attend the city’s lifeguard training academy. The academy requires a nearly 10-day ordeal over five arduous weekends. After that academy graduates who get a job offer end up hitting the beach sometime in June.
Out of the 53 who initially tried out, only three females and 26 males made it to the training academy this year, according to lifeguard spokeswoman Jennifer Schulz.
Both men and women have been a part of the Newport Beach lifeguard cadre for years. But, according to Schulz, there are no women among the city’s eight full-time lifeguards presently, and only 17 woman in the city’s 189-person seasonal lifeguard corps.
McLaren, who will turn 18 next month, spoke with the Independent this week about achieving what at first she thought may not have even been possible.
“Going into it, I told myself I would do my best and that’s all I could do, no matter what place I finished. But my attitude started to change as they began to post the points of all the trainees and I realized I had a chance to finish first. Then I was determined to win.”
McLaren is a recent graduate of Newport Harbor High, and a standout water polo player. She is headed to UCLA in the fall, on a water polo scholarship.
The mental and physical testing that lifeguard recruits undergo is the stuff of legend in Newport Beach.
One former longtime Newport lifeguard says, “It’s not for the faint of heart.”
According to Schulz, the physical standards are identical for both men and women.
McLaren told the Indy, “The hardest part was definitely the physical competitions, because I was competing against a group of very athletic boys.”
From swimming to paddling to running, potential lifeguards undergo intense training, which pushes the limits of their physical and mental endurance.
There are also the skill and academic challenges.
McLaren says she was prepared for it all, but knew it would be tough.
“I knew I could study and prepare myself for the tests, so I was confident about those, but the athletic competitions were the only things I was unsure about because I didn’t know how fast everyone else was, so I was not really sure how I would finish. I ended up Top 10 in all of them, though, so I think I did fine.”
Schulz said the city could not yet release the final tally from the academy program, as the academy is not officially over until June 11 and the job offers won’t go out until after that.
As for the guys who tried out this year and were competing against Mclaren, in their defense, some of them did out-swim, out-run and out-paddle McLaren, according to informed sources, but when the final scores for the overall program – which includes non-athletic testing and training as well – were tallied, Mclaren came out on top.
McLaren herself has nothing but praise for her competition.
“They were very congratulatory and nice about it. Some of them were making fun of the guys who placed right beneath me (in the heats) because they got beat by a girl, but they all got beat by a girl, so there was really no place for the mockery.”
As for the lifeguard higher-ups, she also has nothing but good things to say about them and their response to her historic accomplishment.
“I actually have only talked to a few of them since training has finished, but the ones I have seen were very congratulatory. I have known a lot of the senior lifeguards since I was born because they all worked with my dad, so I think they had high expectations of me in training and I think I fulfilled them.”
McLaren says coming from a family of Newport Beach lifeguards (her dad and two brothers) has only helped.
“It kind of feels like it’s a right of passage in my family. We grew up around the lifeguarding program and the lifeguards themselves, and they have given so much to myself and my family that I feel like it is my turn to give back to them by being the best lifeguard that I can be.”
As for that still outstanding issue of whether or not Maddy McLaren will be getting that job offer she seeks from the city to join the ranks of its world-renowned Newport Beach lifeguards, McLaren exudes her humble, but clear confidence.
“I would like to think I earned a job, because I proved myself to be at the top of my training class.”