CAPE MAY POINT - North Wildwood rookie lifeguard Erin Regan outswam last year's top two finishers by seven seconds to win the Cape May Point Women's Lifeguard Challenge on Wednesday at St. Pete's Beach.
Regan was neck-and-neck with defending champion Kerry Choplin and last year's runner-up, Meghan O'Leary, before pulling away as they headed toward the shore. Regan crossed the finish line in 25 minutes, 26 seconds. Chop-lin and O'Leary finished second and third to give Cape May the team title.
"It feels amazing," said Regan, an 18-year-old who swims for Mount St. Mary's University. "I never thought I would do this well. There are some unbelievable athletes, and I was amazed I could keep up with them."
Regan attended Upper Dublin High School in Fort Washington, Pa., but spent a week or two every summer at her aunt's beach house.
Her father, Michael Regan, was a lieutenant on the North Wildwood Beach Patrol until 1986 and convinced her to become a lifeguard.
"I love (these races)," Regan said. "I love swim meets, but these races are so much more fun than swim meets."
The event started with a 1.2-mile beach run. Then came a three-quarter-mile paddleboard and a half-mile swim, finishing with a short sprint to the finish line. The event was exhilarating to watch, with spectators running up and down the beach, hoping to catch every lead change and root on their swimmers.
Choplin came in second in 25:33, and Cape May teammate O'Leary was third in 25:50. Since the team championship is scored like cross country, Cape May won the title for a second consecutive year with five points. Jordan Lyons of North Wildwood finished fifth, combining with Regan to give their team second place with six points.
"We won the championship, which I'm really happy about," said O'Leary, who led in every event up until the end of the swim. "At 27, if I can hang with these young girls, I'm happy."
O'Leary and Choplin improved their times from last year by more than a minute.
"We've been training really hard up until this point," Choplin said. "(Winning the team championship) is awesome."
It was d�j� vu for Choplin as she passed O'Leary, her partner on the stand, in the water during the swim.
"I like running, but not on the soft sand," said Choplin, who swam at Kutztown University. "But once I hit the water, I felt great."
Contact Hannah Bitzer:
1. Cape May 5, 2; North Wildwood 6; 3. Wildwood Crest 14.
1. Erin Regan, North Wildwood, 25:26; 2. Kerry Choplin, Cape May, 25:33; 3. Meghan O'Leary, Cape May, 25:50; 4. Rebecca Hannings, Avalon, 26:07; 5. Jordan Lyons, North Wildwood, 26:17; 6. Maryann Lerro, Wildwood Crest, 26:52; 7. Cara Donley, Stone Harbor, 26:56; 8. Rose Brenner, Wildwood Crest, 27:41; 9. Priscilla Robinson, Island Beach State Park, 28:17; 10. Kelly Bainbridge, Stone Harbor, 28:32; 11. Jenny Vieth, Cape May Point, 28:38; 12. Ashley Kotran, Sea Grit, 29:37; 13. Kaitlyn Keegan, Island Beach State Park, 29:49; 14. Emily Artrip, Cape May Point, 32:18; 15. Shannon Johnson, Sea Isle, 37:29.