Our Department's lifeguards are known for being world-class athletes, and Ocean Lifeguard Jim McConica is no exception! McConica has been named by Swimming World magazine as one of the top 12 World Masters swimmers of the year for 2011 in the 60-65 age group. However, this honor comes as no surprise to our Department members who work with McConica. Not only did he win the 1,000-meter Lifeguard tryout swim when he joined our Department eight years ago, he actually beat the previous time records – all at the age of 53, giving him the distinct honor of being the oldest person to both graduate and win the tryouts. However, McConica counts being a lifeguard among his highest accomplishments. "I feel very fortunate that I get to do what I do and still swim effectively against most of the guards here," he says. "This is the best job in the world!"
The list of McConica's accomplishments over his 30-plus years as a swimmer is a long and varied one. During his collegiate days he was a six-time gold medalist at the NCAAs as captain of the University of Southern California's swim team, and a five-time Pan-Am Games competitor who set a world record in the 800 free relay in 1971. However, his most remarkable accomplishment was also one of his key disappointments. At the 1972 Olympic trials he became the second person in the world to shatter the 1:40 in the 200 free, right after Mark Spitz. Despite this achievement, he missed making the team by only a tenth of a second, while Spitz went on to win seven gold medals at that year's games in Munich. This setback did not keep McConica down though, and over the years he has continued to break swimming records, including three solo crossings of the Catalina channel and one of the English Channel, while managing a family-owned automobile dealership.
In 2004, McConica took a surprise turn. He sold his business, but instead of taking an early retirement he decided to become a Los Angeles County lifeguard. "I was a beach lifeguard between high school and college in Carpinteria, and it was something I always wanted to do again," McConica recalls. Over his eight years with our Department he has worked at Corral Beach, Point Dume and now this summer at Zuma Beach. It was during his time at Corral that he decided to also become an EMT. "That beach is about 10 minutes away from any back up and I really felt I needed to know more medically in case of any emergency," he says. Which beach is his favorite? "Every beach is unique, but frankly I'm always just happy to get a phone call to come to work!"
McConica's love for lifeguarding is evident, as he recalls the many rescues he's been able to perform over his career. "It's the best job in the world – the only thing is we can't make any mistakes," he says. He cites how lifeguarding is less about rescuing and more about prevention – stopping accidents before they happen. "It's about keeping your eyes open and looking around all the time. I always place myself in an area where I see a potential for an emergency, for example, near rip tide areas where people can be pulled down. It's being there and being prepared."
Now 61, McConica continues to train for the next big challenge. Currently he swims up to five miles per day in anticipation of several channel swims he is planning to complete later this year. "The plan is to swim the Anacapa Channel eight times in seven days," he says. "I hope to swim one solo crossing per day of 12 ½ – 13 miles for the first six days, and on the seventh day swim over and back with less than a 10-minute break. Cold water, currents, chop, sea critters plus fatigue will be a big challenge."
Congratulations to McConica on his most recent recognition, and best of luck to him on achieving his next goal!