Members of the Vero Beach Lifeguard Association just received a slightly used but very helpful piece of training equipment donated by a prominent local orthopedic surgeon and former lifeguard who believes these local rescuers are under-appreciated.
Dr. Peter Wernicki gave the organization his 18-foot-long fiberglass surfski–a long, sleek, narrow and fast type of racing kayak–that members will use for off-duty strength and fitness training.
“Very difficult to master, but it’s a great cardio and back muscle workout,” wrote Association president Erik Toomsoo. “Lifeguards still use them in competition races, but it’s more for mastering your waterman techniques and improving fitness levels. It’s the only one we have.”
Wernicki has deep, first-hand experience with lifeguarding after spending 12 summers watching over the beaches of the Jersey Shore where he grew up. Although he now spends most of his days treating sports injuries and performing surgeries, the 61-year old has remained front and center in promoting and improving water safety around the world.
Wernicki has served as medical advisor for the United States Lifesaving Association; Aquatics chair of the American Red Cross Scientific Advisory Council; and Medical committee chair of the International Lifesaving Federation–which knighted him in 2019. He has written and published extensively on water safety topics.
“Helping lifeguards out is my avocation,” Wernicki said. “It’s been fun and hopefully it’s been helpful.”
“The lifeguards here are underfunded,” he added. “They can’t even afford basic equipment. Their biggest problem is that they’re in the recreation department, not public safety, which is better funded. These guys put their lives on the line everyday. We have unguarded beaches for miles and it’s unequivocally unsafe.”