Super Boat Race at Washington Park Takes an Unexpected Turn

By: Caitlin Vanlaningham Last Updated: August 6, 2012

Originally, I had gone to Washington Park in Michigan City to cover the 4th Annual Super Boat Great Lakes Grand Prix powerboat race. However, an unexpected event had this writer changing her story.

It was a gorgeous day at the beach at Washington Park. People of all ages had come out to play in the sand, splash in the surf and wait in anticipation of the big powerboat race that was about to take place off the shores of Lake Michigan.

Sunday’s race was part of a four-day event that kicked off on Thursday, August 2. The event was put on by Superboat International, a company created by John Carbonell in 1989. Superboat International is the most well-known powerboat racing promoter in the world.

Unfortunately, there was no race to be had that day. An emergency occurred when a young boy was reported missing. He was last seen in the water.

“A woman ran up to the tower and said someone was struggling in the water,” said Ryan Byers, head lifeguard at Washington Park Beach. “I headed out to the water with the secondary rescue.”

Fellow lifeguard Kaitlin Thomas was instantly at Byers side. According to Byers, all incidences are dealt with by him and a secondary rescue (another lifeguard).

“The current was really strong and pulling east, which was strange. I decided that a shallow line search was needed,” continued Byers. “That is where the citizens came in to help. There was also a deep line search that was done by the lifeguards only.”

In a line search, individuals join hands and form a line from the shore stretching out into the water. Then they sweep through the water, acting like a human net as they skim along the floor trying to feel for the victim, while keeping their eyes peeled above water. Once the line got to one end, everyone turned around, joined hands again and walked back through the water covering the area a second time. It was an awesome sight to see strangers coming together for the sake of one life.

“It feels good to live in a place where citizens are willing to help,” Byers said. “Tragedy brings out the true nature in a person.”

Luckily, the end was not tragic as the young boy was found and safely brought to shore.

“We were on our game like we should’ve been. The Coastguard, DNR, police - all the agencies responded well,” Byers stated proudly.

Meghan Quinlan, a second-year life guard, was the eyes and ears for the operation. “I saw that they needed help and I radioed to Tower One to get the people out of there so that we can go in and find the missing person,” she reported.

After that, Quinlan and another lifeguard started the aforementioned shallow line search. Then after about 30 minutes of searching, the boy was found and brought to safety. Rumors were heard about a woman who was also in the water, but after thoroughly searching multiple times, it was confirmed that there was no one else missing in the lake.

When asked what goes through her mind during situations like this one, Quinlan replies, “Everything just clicks. We’re all so close,” she said nodding to her fellow lifeguards. “We all know each other. We’re like a giant family.”

That is a bond that not everyone has. For a lifeguard, it is essential for everyone to be in sync with each other. How do the lifeguards maintain this camaraderie?

“Every day we do refreshers and one hour of training before work. We have to try out for this job,” Quinlan said.

This may sound rigorous and demanding, but it should put the readers’ mind at ease to know that these lifeguards work so diligently to make sure that the beach is a safe place to be. But we, the beach-goers, have to do our part as well. Byers gave two very easy tips to stay safe. “Pay attention to flags and signs, and keep track of your children,” he stated.

These flags and signs are color-coded warning signals that can be easily spotted all over the beach. If red signs are up, then the water is closed and unsafe for swimming. Yellow flags warn that there is bacteria in the water. Green flags mean that it is safe to swim.

Unfortunately, the race was cancelled due to the incident, but the day was not in the least bit lost. There was an after party with live music, food from local vendors and a beer garden. Families still played on the beach (albeit more cautiously), and the powerboats were on display for all to admire.

This writer was very lucky to witness the events that happened that day. Hundreds of people, complete strangers, working together and doing their part to help. Next time you go to the beach, thank a lifeguard. These individuals put themselves at risk every day just by coming to work. The unsure conditions of the weather, water and other elements can mix into a deadly concoction, and lifeguards know the risk. Yet they take it anyway, putting others health and well-being above their own. They earned the title “lifeguard”. Without them, this story might not have had a happy ending. After all, they do guard lives.

To find out more about the Great Lakes Grand Prix visit the Super Boat website, or check out their Facebook page.

For more information on Washington Park visit their website, or check out their Facebook page.

Sponsors for the Great Lakes Grand Prix: Super Boat International Productions Inc., Michigan City La Porte CVB, Blue Chip Casino, Michigan City Parks and Recreation, Horizon Bank, Matey’s, Top Dog, Port Authority Michigan City, Microtel Inn & Suites, NIPSCO, South Shore Line, WIMS AM 1420, Summer Fest Thunder on the Lake, Mystik Lubricants, Applebee’s, Harbor Chevy Buick GMC, Sports Indiana, Leroy’s Hot Stuff