Ocean City -- They are just No. 18 and No. 19 at 10:30 a.m., as Lt. Skip Lee assigns each Beach Patrol applicant a number, writing it on their right biceps in black Magic Marker.
"I want to hire eight people today," Mr. Lee tells the 24 applicants sitting on benches at Dorchester Street and the Boardwalk, filling out forms. "That is my goal. I'll be your biggest cheerleader. I'll be in your face. I will do all in my power to get in your face, to help you win."
But as it turns out, Mr. Lee has only two faces to get into on this Saturday in early June.
No. 19 is Frank Sullivan, a 27-year-old bartender living in Ocean Pines and one of the fastest competitors in the ocean swim, a tough quarter-mile in the ocean, the last part through a ripcurrent, and around the pier. Visibly winded, he clocks in at a little over seven minutes, well under the 10-minute requirement.
He is followed by several of the others, many falling to their knees, coughing up part of the Atlantic, as they finish. About a third of those trying out give up during the swim.
No. 18, Jerome "Jordy" Fuchs, comes out of the ocean about two minutes after Mr. Sullivan. Mr. Fuchs, a 19-year-old college student from Reisterstown, has a time of eight minutes, 58 seconds.
"Baywatch" it isn't. They're the only two who make it, and their grueling day is just beginning.
At 11:25, the two applicants begin buoy runs. The untimed test of endurance calls for running out into the ocean while carrying the orange safety device, about the size of a boogie board, then running back with it and resetting it in the sand so it will stand, ready for next time.
Both 18 and 19 make it through the required seven round trips, although both are clearly fatigued by the fifth run.
Mr. Lee is as good as his earlier word to get in their faces.
"Come on, 19, move! Move! All the way up, get the buoy, set it up!" he shouts at a flagging Mr. Sullivan.
"Come on, 18, come on," he coaxes in a softer tone, as Mr. Fuchs slows during the sixth trip. "Come on, you can do this."
A taste of the job
In this test, as in the others, there's not much distance between the test and the job. On busy days, say Mr. Lee and other Beach Patrol members, there can be many such trips with a buoy to fish out a swimmer in trouble. The anecdotal record for a single day is 28 rescues, which works out to about four an hour. For that, they'll need the endurance Mr. Lee is coaching out of them as he runs beside them, up and back, up and back, up and back. Plant the buoy. Pick it up. Run, wade, turn, wade, run.
Buoy runs over, they get a brief respite while Mr. Lee shows them a cross-chest carry. They take turns "rescuing" each other in the surf. They're still tired from the buoy runs, and their fatigue is visible.
"No help, no help," Mr. Lee shouts at Mr. Fuchs, whom Mr. Sullivan is dragging out of the surf and onto the beach. "Come on, 19, come on. Keep pulling! Don't give up on me."
They don't give up, flopping exhausted onto the sand only when they're through. Mr. Lee tells them to rest -- the only instruction all day he doesn't have to repeat.
"Nice job," he tells both. This man is a teacher and a coach in Anne Arundel County when he isn't spending his summers in Beach Patrol training, and it shows. His mix of drill instructor and coach, shouting and cajoling, is working. No. 18 and No. 19 are halfway through the day, and both look determined to conquer whatever challenges Mr. Lee has left.
He has plenty.
"Last thing we're going to do before a rest is the medley," says Mr. Lee, who's getting hoarse. For this, they must climb a lifeguard stand, and on command, climb down ("I do not want my employees jumping off the stand! You break your ankle and there's still someone out in the surf who needs help," Mr. Lee says with authority), run down to the pier, swim out about 100 meters to a floating pink buoy and back, run back to the stand. No time limit here -- they just have to finish.
They do, with Mr. Lee running the last lap of the medley beside them, shouting, pushing, coaching all the way.
So far, so good. Both candidates have earned the right to a 20-minute rest, and then a run in the sand.
Mr. Fuchs goes over to his knapsack and sits alone in the sand, drinking Gatorade. Mr. Sullivan joins two friends who have watched the trials and drinks bottled water while they tell him how well he's done so far.
Exactly 20 minutes later, 18 and 19 are running again -- hard. This is the sand sprint, and they've got to run 300 meters in soft sand, the kind that kicks up around your ankles and puts a torch to your hamstrings in a hurry. They must finish in 65 seconds.
Mr. Sullivan, who participates regularly in triathlons, crosses the finish line first. Mr. Fuchs isn't far behind, and both are a few seconds earlier than the requirement.
Mr. Lee tells both to meet him at the Castle in the Sand motel an hour and a half hence at 2 p.m. for the controlled-water portion of the test.