Jason Graham kicks his fins furiously as he struggled to hold a 5-gallon water jug above his head until its contents drained back into the Astoria Aquatics Center pool. Someone had used a black marker and to write "death bottle" on the side of the container.
"Come on, you've got it. Fight it! Fight it!" Buck Beaudry yelled at the U.S. Coast Guard boatswain's mate as he tried to stay afloat.
Before this exercise, Beaudry had Graham and the other Coast Guard men swimming with 10-pound bricks raised above their heads, and throwing their gear in the water and retrieving it as they raced against the clock. They were also doing "fun kicks," basically souped-up leg lifts that appeared more like work than fun.
"While people stop at McDonald's getting danishes and coffee, this is what we do," he said.
LORI ASSA - The Daily Astorian
Beaudry is an 18-year veteran of the U.S. Coast Guard.Beaudry is a Coast Guard Aviation Survival Technician, more commonly known as a rescue swimmer. He runs workouts to prepare these future swimmers for the grueling school they must pass before becoming qualified, as well as workouts to keep current swimmers in shape. There are eight rescue swimmers at Air Station Astoria, and only 325 in the entire Coast Guard.
Beaudry, 41, is an 18-year veteran of the Coast Guard. He decided to become a rescue swimmer because he nearly drowned twice as a child. When he was 5 he was taken out to sea in a small plastic boat, and when he was 12 he tried to rescue a drowning friend, only to be pulled under himself.
"Water rescue was always one of the things I was afraid of," he said.
Beaudry doesn't go easy during practice. He knows what's required of swimmers when they get out in the open ocean. He was once left on scene all night long off Cape Cod, Mass., with a person who had a broken back.
"I know what it's like being out there in 40-foot seas in the middle of the night," he said. "You have to not panic, maintain your victim and get yourself out of there."
Many of the exercises he selects make the men practice reason and swimming with little oxygen, because when on scene, they often have to make life-and-death decisions when they may not be thinking clearly.
"Oxygen is overrated," he joked.
Airman Jason Connell, who is training to be a rescue swimmer, called Beaudry a "good guy."
"If we start slipping and making mistakes, he cracks down," Connell said. "But he's fair."
Despite the intense physical requirements, Beaudry insisted his job is easy compared with the duties of other rescuers. The helicopter flight mechanic must make sure the blades don't hit the mountains and don't hurt the person being rescued, and the pilot has to keep the helicopter steady in rough weather.
Everything is a team effort.
"It's a group of people," Beaudry said. "It's not just me."
Beaudry did admit that given an entire rescue team, the rescue swimmer would be the crazy one in the group.
"We jump out of a perfectly good helicopter!"
- Leanne Josephson