Iron Guard

Ten of the 28 lifeguards participating in the 2017 Iron Guard Competition pose for a photo.

(July 13, 2018) The 25th annual Iron Guard Competition will take place tonight, Friday, on the beach at 130th Street, beginning at 6 p.m.

Sponsored by Pizza Tugos, the competition is a triathlon open to members of the Ocean City Beach Patrol, which involves a 1,000-meter swim, 2-mile run and a 2,000-meter paddle.

“When I came up with the idea to start this race, it was in part because I was getting into triathlons myself,” said Wes Smith, former Ocean City Beach Patrol lieutenant. “Sgt. David Griffith, now captain of Sea Colony Beach Patrol, would go out every day and run and swim by the area of 130th Street and he really motivated me to get into triathlons, so I wanted to create a race that resembled his workout.”

Smith started the Iron Guard in 1993 when he was 18 years old. According to him, the first triathlon was by far the most challenging.

“Capt. George Schoepf wanted to challenge me because I wasn’t a lieutenant or officer, so he set it up by saying, ‘You can run the race but you’re not allowed [to use] any beach patrol equipment. You can organize this race with paddleboards and buoys, but you’re going to have to figure out a way on your own,’” Smith said.

“The history [behind] it is really funny,” he continued. “We didn’t have buoys, we didn’t have any beach patrol vehicles. We just had a guy with a mullet in a Jeep Wrangler driving down the beach with paddleboards thrown in the back. People used to joke that what I was doing to get the race going was actually a harder race than the actual race.”

Despite initial struggles, the race has become a fan favorite among the lifeguards. Many use the triathlon as a test of their endurance or physical fitness. The competition lasts anywhere from 40 minutes to an hour and 10 minutes.

Last year, 28 lifeguards competed in the triathlon.

“It was an incentive to keep the guards in shape and [have] something to strive for at the end of the summer [as well as] bragging rights as the guards competed against each other for various awards within different criteria,” Smith said.

Trophies will be awarded to the top finishers in the male, female and relay divisions. Each participant will also receive a T-shirt and free pizza from Pizza Tugos. Plaques and medals will be presented as well.

“We are having multiple previous winners and alumni to come and join in cheering on and seeing the results for this year’s big anniversary,” Iron Guard Organizer Sgt. Jeff Brabitz said.

The event is free for spectators. Those interested in watching the competition are recommended to bring a chair.

“Everybody that I’ve ever talked to who’s seen it, [say] they see the camaraderie among the guards and how much fun they have,” Smith said. “Either way, it’s exciting to watch.”

For more information about the competition, contact Brabitz at 301-943-0842 or brabitzj@yahoo.com.

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