Fishtown native Nate Dirvin gears up for summer season of lifeguarding and charity races, hoping to pass on example of helping others
By Melissa Komar
Summer has arrived in the River Wards, and for many residents, swimming is on the itinerary, whether in the backyard blow-up pool, at the local rec center or down the shore, to stay cool.
For Fishtown native Nate Dirvin, water is a way of life for the next three months.
The 35-year-old kicked off his 17th season as a lifeguard with the Wildwood Beach Patrol Memorial Day weekend and will safeguard the lives of swimmers and beach-goers until Labor Day.
His passion for the beach and all things water was born years ago, when Dirvin took trips to the shore with family and friends in the summer starting in elementary school.
“I’ve always had a love of the water, especially ocean surfing,” he said. “Growing up in
Fishtown, I had a group of friends that I would go surfing with at the Jersey shore if their parents went on vacation or vice versa. We spent a lot of time at the shore in the summer.”
Dirvin would spend hours body boarding and surfing recreationally.
In his sophomore year at the former Northeast Catholic High School, a 15-year-old Dirvin took his first dip into the world of competitive water sports: rowing.
While the discipline and training he learned rowing on the Schuylkill River would prepare him for his venture into paddling races last year, it was the people he met who impacted his path going forward.
“My coaches gave me a great experience, whether teaching me about water safety or rowing,” he said. “And I learned about lifeguarding from my coaches, who are now some of my bosses in Wildwood. Just from rowing and the crew team, I met so many people around the water and learned how I could help so many people.”
His coach, Steve Stocks, who is chief of the Wildwood Beach Patrol, introduced him to rowing at Temple University, where Dirvin rowed competitively, and lifeguarding at the beach.
Through his work with the beach patrol, Dirvin met Ed Schneider, captain of the beach patrol, who also was from Fishtown and went to North Catholic and Temple University.
“Ed [Schneider] has done a lot for me. And now I’m good friends with him as well,” Dirvin said. “Both Steve [Stocks] and Ed have been very good role models.”
Although Dirvin spends most of his time using his water safety skills safeguarding patrons on the sandy shores of Wildwood, he is always ready to react, a mindset that saved a child’s life.
In April 2008, Dirvin was jogging on Kelly Drive when he was flagged down by a group of fishermen.
A car had submerged in the river. Trapped inside was a 6-year-old boy.
Dirvin and another onlooker went into the river.
“We both took turns surface diving,” he said. “The other guy, Chris Hess, pulled him out, but we both took turns getting the door open. The Philadelphia Police helped direct us to bring him out of the water and then the ambulance took him to the hospital.”
Dirvin received a commendation from the City of Philadelphia for his heroic actions.
The ability to react was all thanks to what he learned from lifeguarding, he said.
“I felt confident to do that because of all the training I had as a lifeguard at the shore,” Dirvin said. “It was stressful, but we have a saying on the beach, ‘Slow is pro.’ Basically, you’re thinking before you react. You make an assessment. And it’s constant vigilance.”
While Dirvin was honored to be recognized by the city, it was the overall satisfaction he gained from helping someone that was the true reward, a feeling that motivated him to begin competing in charity events on the water.
Last summer, he participated in the Cape to Cape Paddle. Dirvin paddled approximately 17 miles from Delaware to Cape May. The paddle race benefits the DESATNICK Foundation, a nonprofit helping those living with Spinal Cord Injury.
He also paddled 22.5 miles during the Paddle for a Cause around Atlantic City. The event was created in honor of a pro surfer, Dean Randazzo, who survived four bouts with cancer.
In addition to various paddle races, Dirvin participates in row races for charity during the summer, including one that raises money for multiple sclerosis.
Dirvin spends hours on the board — an average of 12 hours a week — preparing for the races mostly in the Rancocas Creek and into the Delaware River and in the ocean in Wildwood.
“I spend hours on the board like it’s my second job,” he said. “I have a goal in mind and that goal is helping people and finishing the race. There’s a correlation between being prepared for these races and being prepared for public safety.”
When he’s not on the beaches in Wildwood during the summer or competing in charity events, Dirvin works as school counselor in Burlington County, N.J.
And, he is still training, whether it be in the water or on land.
“There’s just this peaceful aspect of being out on the water,” he said. “It’s calming and helps relieve daily stresses. It’s my outlet and it centers me.”
This winter, he took a break from rowing and paddling and trained for a running marathon.
Dirvin and his sister, Marie, ran the Big Sur International Marathon donning T-shirts honoring their grandfather, Robert Rynkiewizc, who passed away from cancer in February.
“He had a rowboat and would go out on the Delaware,” Dirvin said. “He was one of my first inspirations to get into water sports.”
Proceeds from the event go toward cancer research.
Giving back is paramount for Dirvin when he chooses races.
“What drew me to the events is the same sense of why I’m a school counselor and why I’m a lifeguard,” he said. “It’s that sense that you’re doing good for others. You get a natural high because you know this is making an impact. You’re paying it forward and hoping other people see you do it and join in the cause. It’s a rippling effect.”
Nate Dirvin will compete in the Cape to Cape Paddle on Saturday, June 24. To donate to Dirvin’s campaign benefitting people with spinal cord injuries, visit desatnickfoundation.dojiggy.com and search ‘Nate Dirvin Cape to Cape.’