(Editor’s Note: The following is a series on the men and women who have spent their summers protecting all those who came to Ocean City for fun and safe vacation.)
OCEAN CITY — Russell Shiflett knows a thing or two about working through tough situations to get the outcome you want.
He was an Eastern Shore boy. Raised in Chestertown, he attended Kent County High School and eventually found himself at Salisbury University. Like an awful lot of people who join the Ocean City Beach Patrol, it was through a friend that the suggestion and opportunity to try out presented itself to Shiflett in the summer of 1983. He was strong and in good shape so he decided to give the test a try. He didn’t make it.
Instead of letting this defeat him, Shiflett found it in himself to use this as a motivation.
“I worked out hard the following winter … swimming rather than lifting weights,” he recalled. When the next season came about, he was ready. Shiflett passed the beach tryout and was ready to join the Ocean City Beach Patrol.
But first, he’d have to face the much dreaded “Pool Test”. This is where the officers take a new guard to a local pool to practice breaking holds. For those going through the pool test, it feels more like an aquatic wrestling match. Shiflett was paired up that day with Sergeant Greg Mix.
“Darn big guy who felt like he was going to drown me,” Shiflett recalled. “I got ahold of his tricep, pinched hard and pushed it over my head to get out of the hold and wound up behind him.”
Once on the stand, the perseverance Shiflett showed through these tough situations would continue as the amount of rescues he accumulated grew.
“One of the largest and toughest pulls I had was seven people at once,” Shiflett said. “A group had gone out early in a blow-up boat on a big surf day with a strong west wind. When I got to my stand, they were already in trouble. I figured I could pull them all in at once if they stayed in the boat. But then a massive swell picked us all up and dumped us all in the surf. I wound up tangled in the boats rope as a couple of the people were tossed out.”
Shiflett fought through, untangled himself and, with the help of another guard was able to get everyone and the boat in to shore.
Shiflett would guard for four summers, but like many other members of the patrol before him, the time came for career and family and an end to days sitting the stand. He finished up at Salisbury in 1987 and wound up “working with the Navy and major ship builders” up and down the East Coast.
Of his days on the OCBP, Shiflett often reflects on the thought the stays with him more than 35 years later. He said, “there are some people living on this earth because you were there. That feels really good.”
Shiflett lives in Virginia Beach, Va., raising a teenage boy with his wife.