Sept. 1 started out as a normal day for Sea Cliff Beach lifeguards Sean Valentine and Cate Salditt. The only difference was the large crowd, since it was the next-to-last beach day of the season. But the lifeguards said they weren’t concerned.
Then, at 2:15 p.m. everything changed. From the lifeguard stand, Salditt spotted a man in the water shouting for help.
Salditt, 16, a rookie lifeguard who had just received her beach certification in mid-August, blew her whistle twice, the signal for a rescue. “It was very alarming for me, because I’d never been in a position like that before,” said the North Shore High School junior. “But I knew what I needed to do.”
Valentine, a 19-year-old senior lifeguard, was in the guard room, on a break, when he saw the man, who he said was around 50, struggling to stay afloat. He sprinted down to the shoreline with a rescue tube and, with his shirt still on, swam out to the man, secured him on the rescue tube and swam him back to shallower water, where he could stand. The swimmer was having severe leg cramps as well as an asthma attack, Valentine recounted, and was unable to stay afloat without help.
The man spent the remainder of the day safe on the beach with his family.
Valentine, who has worked at Sea Cliff Beach for four years, had never had to save anyone before. “I felt pretty good,” he said. “It had been the first time in my time at Sea Cliff Beach a rescue needed to be done, so it was shocking, but at the same time it was good to know we were prepared, and able to act in an emergency.”
Both lifeguards said they were scared at first, but once the initial fear wore off and their training kicked in, they were able to get the job done, and left work that day with a feeling of accomplishment.
Elaine Neice, one of the managers at the beach, said that the swimming area is normally very calm, because large waves and rip currents are rare in the Long Island Sound. But, she said, benign conditions can be something that people take for granted. She added that knowing that the lifeguards were ready to respond in an emergency reinforced her trust in their abilities.
Fellow beach manager Joni Sturge said she was proud to see that Valentine and Salditt came through when they were needed. She said it was validating for her that they were properly trained. “With everything we talked about and practiced,” Sturge said, “they rose to the occasion.”
But it wasn’t only Valentine’s and Salditt’s supervisors who recognized their actions. Mayor Edward Lieberman invited the lifeguards to the Sea Cliff board of trustees meeting on Sept. 9. Before the meeting began, the mayor presented them with certificates recognizing their dedication to keeping the people of Sea Cliff safe.
“This has been a season of newness, a season of transition, and it was something that this board took very seriously [and] our residents took very seriously,” Lieberman said. “We’re happy to say the transition and the people involved, both former and current, led to a wonderful summer, and a summer that was capped off with this chapter. And thankfully, this chapter ended the way it did.”