(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 – Al Walsh was a good swimmer. He had been on the swim team at Calvert Hall when his teammate and good friend, Jamie Schnick, convinced him to join him that summer in Ocean City working on the beach patrol. It was 1979 when Al took the test. As he came around the pier, well ahead of the pack, one of the crew chiefs helping with testing that day turned to the captain and asked that this guy be put on his crew. It was a good move, as Walsh helped lead his fellow guards that summer to the top crew award during crew competitions.
During Al’s first summer, a letter showed up about him in the captain’s mailbox.
The letter ead, “Dear Sirs,
I wish to express my sincere thanks to the lifeguards of the Beach Patrol for their ever-watchful eyes. A very special thanks to Life Guard Al Walsh. I shall be forever grateful to him for his quick instinct and superior performance in his life saving techniques.
On June 28, 1979, while swimming on the crowded 18th Street area beach, I wondered out in the rip tide in search of a large wave to ride back into shore. I wondered beyond the point where I could safely stand on the bottom. At first it was no real alarm for me. You see, I’m a native Louisianan and had been swimming in bayous and lakes all my boyhood and early manhood. Until this summer I considered myself to be a good swimmer. I soon learned that there is a drastic difference between the steady bayou currents and mild lake waves to the swift ocean currents.
Upon attempting to swim back to shore I realized I wasn’t making much headway; after a minute or so I began to become fatigued and upon looking in, I realized I wasn’t moving forward. I began to tread water and realized I was being carried farther and farther out. At this point I felt really tired (exhausted) and began to panic. I gave about 5 loud cries for help and gazed across the beach to see if the life guard had seen me. All I saw was an empty chair which gave me the reassurance I needed and strength to remain afloat.
Before long, the red float appeared before me and I quickly clenched it. As life guard Al Walsh reached me, I felt safe and could breathe freely again. I attempted to help him on his rescue by holding one hand to the float rope and swimming. He commanded me in a reassuring manner to hold on to the rope with both hands as he vigorously swam through the fierce rip tides to return us both safely to the beach.
Upon reaching the shore I felt embarrassed for the alarm I had caused on the beach with my childish escapade at 31 years old. But beyond that I felt ever so grateful then and now to life guard Al Walsh.
Not every guard gets one of these. Most do their job with little fanfare. When recognition does show up, it’s a wonderful feeling.
Walsh would go on to make over 300 rescues in his next three years of guarding. Today, he owns his own real estate brokerage in Phoenix, Md.