"It's the closest thing to being a professional athlete - you're getting paid to work out," said Pat Buckley, a rowing coach at Father Judge.
The Wildwood Beach Patrol also has a bunch of wrestlers. Wrestlers on the beach?
"They follow orders well. You tell them go. They [first] say, OK . . . [then say] where?" said Chris Cancelliere, a Beach Patrol lieutenant and a wrestling coach at Father Judge, formerly at North Catholic.
Taking competitive athletes because they have the best chance to rescue wayward swimmers? Aren't the Jersey Shore towns just trying to win lifeguard competitions? The best ringers win, right? There is some of that, but most of the top competitors at the big competitions are veterans, some long out of college.
There's obviously logic to the idea that if you're battling a riptide, you want rescuers who can handle a 200-yard swim after their forearms are already dead from a row and their muscles are flaming from a sprint in the sand.
The rowers will tell you that despite the rough similarities, moving a boat in the Atlantic is different than on the Schuylkill.
"Ocean rowing is more about the upper back," said David Buckley, a rower about to start at Temple and part of the Wildwood Beach Patrol competitive double.
"Ocean boat rowing is a lot different than crew," said Brandon Joyce, a Temple graduate and Buckley's doubles partner. "The job is to get out clean and go fast."
Filling vacancies, Chief Steve Stocks, a former Temple rower who coached at North Catholic, and Captain Ed Schneider, who runs a city wrestling program out of Port Richmond and an assistant wrestling coach at Council Rock East, check in with coaches at area colleges. That's how a Rowan swimmer, for instance, gets a call from his coach. "You interested in this?"
Wildwood had a couple of Rowan swimmers this summer. Others included a female rower looking to walk on at St. Joseph's, a coxswain on the St. Joe's rowing team, a Temple rower, a couple of runners at St. Joe's, twin brothers who ran for Gwynedd Mercy, and a rugby player from Lock Haven, who was a former wrestler.
That morning, a current and a former Council Rock South High wrestler were competing in the Iron Rookie.
"I don't think the average person can just walk in and try out," said Tom Schaaltiel of Richboro, now at Penn State. "You need that mentality: I can do that."
Schaaltiel had never rowed a boat before this summer, and the Iron Rookie demanded that he do it alone. His forearms started to go first, he said, as the rowboat took on the waves going out. "I don't really have set technique," he said.
For the average person, he said, that row would probably be a good workout for a day. The run, he said, was no walk in the park. "You've got to have leg muscles to run in the soft sand." Then the swim takes over every muscle in your body, Schaaltiel said. Your arms and legs eventually feel like Jell-O. Luckily, there's adrenaline to help.
Getting to a flag, turning back toward the beach, he thought: "I've got this. I can do this.' . . . You're going to catch a wave or two. A lot is psychological. You want to finish."
Scott Mackin, a senior wrestler at Council Rock, also from Richboro, said getting out of the surf in the boat is tough. His forearms were throbbing. On the way in, his boat got a little sideways on him.
The swim was really hard, Mackin said, but he just started thinking: "I don't want to be out here too long. I want to get in."
This summer, Mackin didn't worry about specific wrestling workouts.
"I'm in the best shape I've been in my life," he said. (Overall Iron Rookie winner: Ryan Carlin, a swimmer and diver who just graduated from Council Rock South.)
That night was the South Jersey Lifeguard Championships up in Ocean City. There are three competitions, a swim, a doubles row, and a singles row.
The singles rower representing Wildwood just turned 40 years old. Darrick Kobierowski had won a competition the week before, but he admitted to being disappointed that the ocean that evening was relatively placid. Wasted were his years of expertise on how to battle the waves. The second- or third-oldest competitor finished ninth of almost 30 entrants.
He didn't sound too disappointed.
"We are talking about lifeguard races - it's not the NFL," Kobierowski had said that morning.