(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 in the ’80’s near the tobacco fields of Upper Marlboro, Jim Matchett felt like the beaches of Ocean City were another world. But as luck would have it, he found himself attending college at Salisbury University, putting the beach a lot closer.
While studying athletic training and working out at the SSU student gym, he happened to see a flyer for guarding positions with the Ocean City Beach Patrol. It looked the kind of challenge he liked, so he set himself to training and just, “went for it.”
Like many others before him, Jim discovered that the OCBP tryouts were a lot harder than he imagined. “It was cold, raining with maybe 55 degree water … it was the toughest physical thing I’ve ever done.” It was the beginning of the summer of ’91, and Jim was about to find out just how much of a physical challenge it was to guard in Ocean City. For the next three summers, he was stationed in the thick of things around the pier. Guards regularly have to make rescues through the pier, facing the double dangers of rip currents and wooden pilings. Add to that the ever-present threat of being swept out to sea beyond the inlet, and Jim found himself training daily for the toughest situations the ocean could present.
The training would pay off for Jim. Not just when he was a guarding the crowded shores of the inlet, but years later.
“My most memorable pull (rescue) happened just a few years ago while on vacation on an unguarded beach in North Carolina. They did have red flags out most of the week and four teens lost their lives just the week prior,” he recalled. “I was sitting about 100 yards away from two kids who entered the water and were quickly in obvious trouble. They looked to be about 10 and 12. Their father went out to help them followed by a bystander who also swam to help. All along I’m running as fast as my old legs could go watching this happen. I used my daughter’s body board as a rescue buoy. The father had one boy holding onto him when I got to them. At the same time, I’m yelling to the bystander who now had the other boy to just swim to us.”
Jim continued, “He didn’t realize that he was swimming against the rip and making no progress. I swam over to them as they drifted towards me in the rip and took the other boy and yelled at the bystander to follow me. We all made it to the body board and just let the rip take us around and over. I held the board in front while everyone kicked their feet making it to some breaking waves. By the time we made it in a large crowd was watching. The EMS was there followed by a truck with wave runners speeding down the beach. It was intense and very emotional for the father and his two boys as their mom was crying and hugging them when we got in safely. I was 48 years old at the time but all that training I had many years ago never leaves you. And as much of us still do, we watch our water looking out for everyone even though no longer on the OCBP.”
Jim takes pride in the job that he did and the service he rendered to countless people on the beach. Of the people he served with in this physically testing environment, Jim is “proud to have been on the patrol and to have met so many good people who remain life-long friends.”
Jim Matchett recently moved back to Ocean City with his wife and family where he continues to help others as a chiropractor and physical trainer.