The six female swimmers with the East Hampton Volunteer Ocean Rescue took part in a special training with the United States Coast Guard on November 11. The team practiced transferring victims from their jet skis to the Coast Guard’s 47-foot motor lifeboat while underway at 10 knots.
EHVOR members Anita LaGrassa, Alex King, Juliana Duryea, Heather Caputo, Katie Osiecki, and Rasa Tarailaite, packed their winter gear and met at the boat ramp on West Lake Drive in Montauk at 9:30 AM. Forming three jet ski crews, they trained for two hours in Montauk Harbor, braving the chilly 42-degree air temperature, the strong northwest winds gusting to 25 knots, and the 60-degree water temperature.
Their tenacity, fortitude, and courage shine like a bright star in the night sky. They honor their calling, unstoppable, full of inner strength. They are efficient and professional, always with smiles and cheerful encouragements, never giving up, even in the most difficult of situations. They do their best, knowing that they can save a life when there is a swimmer in distress, or in a water related emergency like the two recent plane crashes off East End shores.
EHVOR’s female rescue swimmers are a different breed of people, standing out, volunteering their time, training side-by-side with the male rescue swimmers. Each time they’re called to duty by East Hampton’s emergency dispatch, their courage is strengthened as they respond to water-related emergencies.
The six female members of the team come from different walks of life. LaGrassa is a 57-year-old grandmother of three. “As a cold-water swimmer, who swims outside year-round, I am aware of the dangers of falling into or having prolonged exposure to water temperatures below 60 degrees,” she said. “I always swim with a buddy, but if I ever did run into a problem, I feel safe knowing that my highly trained, highly proficient extended family is only a phone call away if something were to happen.”
King is a writer, director, editor, filmmaker, trapeze artist, and the mother of a 17-year-old daughter. King was inspired to join during a cold January surf session. “It was a big wave day at Ditch Plains. I was out for a couple of hours with one other guy. After I came in, I was told that the other guy didn’t know how to swim,” said King. She said that made her realize she would need better lifesaving skills and was able to obtain them by undertaking the training needed to be part of the EHVOR.
Caputo, one of the lieutenants with the Amagansett Squad, is a licensed veterinary technician, the mother of a four-year-old daughter, a runner, a biker, and an outdoor enthusiast. “I have come to think of the members of EHVOR as a big extended family,” she said. “There are no exceptions nor are there any lesser standards for women as compared to men in this organization. I love the challenges and feel that I have learned a lot of important and useful skills through the training that is both mandatory and voluntary.”
Duryea said her respect for the ocean has deepened since she started surfing 20 years ago. “The ocean has taught me about my own limitations, as well as the sheer pleasure in connecting with the flow of nature. Working as an ocean lifeguard for the last 16 years, and as a rescue swimmer with EHVOR for the last six years, I have grown to understand the importance of my role in our community,” she said.
Osieki, a former captain in EHVOR, joined the summer after she graduated college and worked as a lifeguard in Montauk. “Over the years, Ocean Rescue has turned into a part of my family,” she said. “I know that anyone in Ocean Rescue will have my back in the water or out of it.”
Tarailaite, who was born and raised in Lithuania, is a Pilates teacher, and owner of RasaPilates. She was introduced to EHVOR by friends and first joined as an auxiliary member. “I wasn’t a lifeguard, nor was I totally comfortable in the ocean,” she said. “After getting tossed and beat by the waves, while making friends with the ocean, and spending numerous hours taking the lifeguard training, I finally passed the ocean lifeguard test.” She said she is “proud and honored to be a member” of the group.