Rife doing his best to hold off Father Time

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 Geoff Rife, 45, competes in the Cape May SuperAthalon, placing eighth out of 13. Geoff Rife, 45, competes in the Cape May SuperAthalon, placing eighth out of 13.

Geoff Rife fought many battles during Cape May’s recent SuperAthalon.

The veteran Cape May Beach Patrol lifeguard went up against a superb field of athletes, many of whom are young enough to be his sons.

Like the rest of the competitors, he faced ridiculously tough conditions, as a stiff southeast wind whipped the ocean into a frenzy, making the second and third legs of the run-row-swim triathlon extremely difficult.

But his biggest battle was the one all of us fight at some point on some level – the one against Father Time.

At 45, Rife was by far the oldest competitor in the field. He was making his first appearance in the event in close to 20 years, and he finished a respectable eighth out of 13.

For this guard, training for the grueling event was more therapy than anything else.

“The main reason I did it is because I didn’t have too good of a winter,” Rife said. “My dad was sick. He was in and out of the hospital. So I used the training to sort of get my mind away from things for a little bit.”

He will go down as one of the all-time great competitors from the Cape May Beach Patrol, even though no one keeps official records of that kind of stuff. He won the SuperAthalon twice, back in 1989 and 1991, at a time when this year’s winner, Avalon’s Shane McGrath, was in somewhere around the fourth grade. He performed well and won events in a variety of lifeguard races in the ’80s and ’90s. And he has also done well in the Around the Island Row, a close to 20-mile doubles row around the Wildwoods.

Rife played a big role in Cape May’s win at the 1996 South Jersey Championships, the granddaddy of all area lifeguard competitions, by scoring valuable points with a third-place finish in the ocean swim. Funny thing about that group, which included Rife, singles rower Terry Randolph and doubles champions Kevin Murphy and Jim Wadlow, is that it was considered “old” even on that August night 15 years ago in Downbeach.

It is because of the dedication that small group made to finally win a South Jersey title for Cape May that Rife stopped competing in the SuperAthalon for a long time.

“The last time I did it was the early 1990s, maybe ’93 or ’94,” Rife said. “If you remember, we were really trying to win Jerseys around then, so I stopped doing it because it took too much training time and focus away from that.”

But there he was a decade and a half later, stepping up to the starting line against 12 other impressively fit athletes, after the guys he worked with to bring Cape May its only South Jersey title are either gone from the beach or are no longer competing.

“I’ve always been more of an endurance athlete and a distance athlete,” said Rife, who winters in Glen Mills, Pa., and is a former Division I University of Pittsburgh swimmer. “With Jim Wadlow gone, there’s no one around to train with for the Around the Island Row, so I decided to give (the SuperAthalon) another shot this year.”

For a 45-year-old, finishing a race such as the SuperAthalon should be accomplishment enough. For Rife, that isn’t the case.

“I’m not really happy at all with my performance because I don’t think it matched up with my training and conditioning,” he said. “I didn’t think the row went as any one of us would have planned. The difficulty of the row … I couldn’t catch anybody in the boat and by then I was too far behind to catch anybody in the swim. I feel I didn’t have a good row, and probably every one of the guys in it except Shane McGrath is probably saying the same thing.”

Even in his most competitive years, Rife always had the right mindset about lifeguard races: He took them seriously enough to prepare and perform at a high level but was always keen to realize their place in the grand scheme of life.

“I think for me it’s more along the lines of a healthy lifestyle choice,” said Rife, who is a paramedic in Chester, Pa., in the winter. “I like to eat healthy and work out because it makes me feel better. It makes me happy at my age to try to set an example for the younger guards, show an example of someone who tries to be fairly dedicated and focused.”

Rife has always been a good solider for his patrol, and perhaps due to his golden-blond hair and likeable outgoing personality, is one of the most recognizable people around Cape May in the summertime. His feelings for his patrol and his summertime home also helped lead him to the starting line for Monday’s event.

“There was a pride thing for wanting to compete because everyone’s coming to your town to compete in your water,” Rife said. “I take a lot of pride in representing our small town. I’m very friendly with lot of the beachgoers and many, many local people, so it’s nice to try and represent them and try and give the best effort I could for the beach patrol and the town.”



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