Monday, May 28, 2001

OCEAN CITY — On a foggy, drizzly day that would have made the perfect backdrop for a Sherlock Holmes case, officials with the Ocean City Beach Patrol were solving a mystery of their own: Who would make it, and who wouldnt?
In advance of the horde of tourists and vacationers expected to descend on Ocean City for the Memorial Day holiday, beach patrol instructors were putting recruits through their paces recently.
After passing a tough qualifying test and undergoing a week of training, the 14 members of the rookie class had to overcome two final hurdles: a 400-meter swim in the cold, choppy water and a 300-meter sprint in the soft sand at the southern tip of the 10 1/2-mile-long beach.
“Come on, lets go, lets go,” Lt. Wes Smith shouted at his charges as they slowly shivered their way through the breakers.
With a few blasts of his whistle and arm signals, Lt. Smith directed his crew chiefs, sitting astride paddleboards, to herd their flock of recruits into the starting position.
A final whistle blast signaled the start of the stopwatch, and the swimmers had 10 minutes to pull themselves through the waves, round a pier and run onto the beach.
Rebecca Sirman, 20, of Westminster, raced ahead of her fellow recruits and stumbled ashore, breathless, in a time of 5:51.
“The last three days, Ive had so much fun,” Miss Sirman, a student at Washington College, said between gasps of air. “Im so glad I did it.”
The last of the rookies, cheered on by her classmates, crossed the finish line at 8:32, comfortably under the 10-minute limit.
After a brief rest period to warm themselves, members in the first of this summers four rookie classes lined up for the 300-meter run, to be completed in 65 seconds or less.
Justin Maynard, 18, of Salisbury, a recent graduate of Parkside High School and a veteran of Ocean Citys junior beach patrol, breezed across the finish line well ahead of the pack.
“Ive always wanted to be a lifeguard,” he said with a smile.
But for Miss Sirman, the smile had turned to tears.
Straggling behind the others and with time running out, she stumbled and collapsed in a heap on the sand, just 5 feet from the finish line. As Miss Sirman buried her face and wept, Lt. Smith crouched down to offer her encouragement — and a second chance.
“She was within a second,” he explained. “Its my discretion. She was only one more stride away from it.”
There was little time to dwell on Miss Sirmans predicament. Lt. Smith told his recruits they could either take a 15-minute break or move immediately to another session on surf-rescue techniques.
“Lets rock n roll,” they said.
Hours later, Miss Sirman again stood at the starting line, 1:05 away from learning whether she would advance to the three-week probationary period for new Ocean City lifeguards.
But she wasnt alone.
Her fellow rookies lined up on either side to run with her and cheer her on.
A few ticks of the stopwatch later, Miss Sirman dived across the finish line.
“She passed it with a second to spare,” Lt. Smith said.

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