When I contacted the North Wildwood Beach Patrol in search for this week’s lifeguard of the week, Captain Bill Ciavarelli recommended three year guard Tom Wilhelm. Originally from Egg Harbor Township, nineteen year old Tom has always spent his summers on the beaches of North Wildwood. “I grew up here,” he states. What inspired Tom to make the transition from typical beachgoer to NWBP lifesaver? “I always thought lifeguarding was the best summer job. I always looked up to the guards and I’ve had a few friends who have been lifeguards.” His choice to join the beach patrol was an easy one. And Tom has been happy with his job ever since. “My favorite thing about being a lifeguard is definitely that everyday is something different. Even though everyday I’m sitting up here on a stand on the beach, there’s always something going on. There’s calm days and then there’s rough days like today.” No matter what, Tom assures me, there’s always action. In fact, just ten minutes before I arrived for our interview, Tom and stand partner Matt Hirst were involved in a save just one stand down from their 21st Street station. An elderly man was struggling to swim and to stay afloat, and Tom and Matt swam out and pulled him to shore. In Tom’s rookie season on the North Wildwood Beach Patrol, he quickly learned that lifeguarding is a job that is most definitely “really serious and really intense”. A man approached Tom’s stand gripping a serious neck injury and who appeared to be “really out of it”. Tom reacted rapidly, bracing the injured beachgoer’s neck and calling for back-up. The man was barely on the verge of consciousness and was later determined to be concussed.
When he’s not making big saves and responding to critical beach emergencies, Tom spends his down time relaxing away from the beach. “My day off is my one day to unwind, so I try to get a break.” But he does love water sports. Tom enjoys swimming and surfing, and in the offseason, he is a member of the University of Delaware Men’s Crew Team. He majors in Biological Sciences at Delaware and plans to one day work in pharmaceutical research. Tom’s favorite Jersey Shore spot? Russo’s Restaurant of at 8th & Ocean Ave in North Wildwood. “It’s only a block and half away from my house. A Russo’s cheesesteak is always good,” he explains. As for a personal fact that most North Wildwood beachgoers might not know about this guard, Tom is deathly afraid of heights. But not to worry, he’s fine with the height of his usual lifeguard stand at 22nd Street. By the way, “he once caught a shark with his bare hands. I saw it,” Tom’s stand partner Matt Hirst informed me. “It was a baby one,” added Tom. Whether conquering baby sharks or keeping a watchful eye on the North Wildwood waterline, Tom Wilhelm remains an asset to the North Wildwood Beach Patrol.
By Megan Kummer