(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 — Growing up, Jeannie Barr was always competitive. The outlet she chose for her competitive spirit was swimming, which she would pursue throughout her life. One of her biggest rivals turned out to be her older brother, Chris. Jeannie remembers that they were “super competitive with each other with swimming … our whole lives.”
In the early 80’s, Chris had joined the Ocean City Beach Patrol. It was a time when then Assistant Captain George Schoepf was pushing hard to turn the patrol into a national powerhouse in lifeguard competitions. Guarding and training became standards of the OCBP. Jeannie heard about the adventures, races and competition and “figured I could do this”. In 1986, Jeannie would tryout and pass the beach patrol test.
“I was really lucky during my four years on beach patrol. Some of my brother’s friends were still on the patrol, which was fun,” she recalled. “I had some really intense rescues; I was part of the first female traveling OCBP competition team (and) my fourth year I became the fourth female OCBP crew chief in beach patrol history.”
The longer Jeannie was on the beach patrol however, the more she came to understand that being a guard was a lot more than just competition.
“You go through these super intense rescues and situations with folks and it bonds you. I’m so grateful for everyone I got to know and am still close with today. Those are some of the best people I know,” she said.
Most guards will remember their most dangerous rescue or their closest race. Jeannie recalls one memory above others. “When I was a Crew Chief on 74th Street, I got a call to wait by the water and that someone was going to replace me on my stand,” she said. “Next thing I knew, here comes Lt. Warren Williams in the Zodiac (an inflatable motorized rescue boat) to pick me up. Warren and I spent the rest of the day playing in the surf. He taught me how to go in and out of waves without flipping. The whole time we just talked and laughed. He was the best story teller. I learned more history and fun stories about OCBP that day. He was so much fun. I never learned why I was chosen to go out with him, but what an honor it was. He was such a great man. I’m definitely grateful for that experience.”
After the summer of 1989, Jeannie left the OCBP but not the experience. Of the lifelong friends she made, Jeannie remarks that it “doesn’t matter how long you go between talking. You can text or talk on the phone and it’s just like yesterday. Those are true friends.”
She lives in Massachusetts with her daughter and their dog. She still competes in open water distance swimming, including the time she raced her older brother Chris in the Swim from Alcatraz in The San Francisco Bay.