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Written by Ann Richardson, Monday, 23 August 2010 14:04

Paul Mangen, left, with Ocean City Beach Patrol coach Bill Dorney, has won numerous swimming contests around the globe. He joined the beach patrol in June, 2000.

A three-time South Jersey life guard champion, Paul Mangen has won international open-water swimming contests around the globe. Training for a contest in Egypt (also known as EGY) Flag of Egypt in October, the 11-year veteran of the Ocean City Beach Patrol has brought international fame and notoriety to his summer hometown.

The head swimming coach at Florida’s St. Leo University returns each summer to the island’s north end to protect bathers and represent his beach patrol in a wide variety of lifeguard events. He’s overcome numerous obstacles to become one of South Jersey’s most talented open water swimmers.

Bill Dorney, Mangen’s Ocean City Beach Patrol coach, said the 29-year-old senior guard is a phenomenal competitor who shines beyond a long list of athletic accomplishments.

“He’s the kind of guy you build a team around,” said Dorney, “not just because he wins but because he’s a fireplug, a leader that motivates everyone around him, making them all better competitors and people in the process. Everyone performs better when Paul is involved.

“He’s always been a great team player, he loves Ocean City and he has brought nothing but pride to our beach patrol. My goal when I coach is to make the athlete not just a better competitor, but a better person. No matter what challenge you give Paul, he gives you everything. He worked since last September to win the South Jersey’s last week.”

Dorney said Mangen’s race was epic. Despite rough surf and strong winds, he edged rival John Maloy, of Wildwood Crest, with a sprint to the finish to take the win.

“You’re not going to beat John Maloy unless you do your homework,” said Dorney. “Paul worked very, very hard to do that.”

“Winning that race meant more to me than anything I have ever accomplished,” he added. “It was the most personally satisfying.”

Dorney launched a long and storied professional lifeguarding and coaching career in Ocean City in 1971. He moved to Miami two years later and spent 25 years guarding South Florida beaches before returning to Ocean City in 2001. He said Mangen has been a joy to coach.

“He made an amazing commitment to his team,” Dorney said. “He was in bed at 9 o’clock every night. He was dedicated to his training. The best thing is that he’s a wonderful friend, a very loyal person and a great role model for our younger guards.”

The West Virginia native – a high school and college pool star - had never competed in the ocean before he arrived in Ocean City to try out for the beach patrol in June, 2000. He tore up the pool at Wheeling Jesuit University, but the ocean was like another world. It didn’t take him long to acclimate to a new environment, but his rookie season was not without a few bumps.

“The first year he competed he was having a hard time staying straight on course,” said Dorney. Prescription goggles, then contact lenses solved the problem.

Mangen said his inexperience in the ocean was glaring, to him anyway.

“It was pretty intense, pretty overwhelming for me,” he said. “I was so excited to get the job, then to be chosen to compete, but I didn’t grow up in the ocean. It took me a while to get used to it, tides, currents, those sorts of things and then I realized I couldn’t swim a straight course, so I would have to follow another swimmer and overcome them at the end.”

That wasn’t the only obstacle Mangen overcame on the path to success. When he was five he was diagnosed with ADHD, Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, a combination of a difficulty paying attention and hyperactivity.

The chronic disorder affected both Mangen and his younger brother, who is now a professional tri-athlete.

“We were wild, and my mother didn’t know what to do,” he said. “My aunt suggested my mother put us in a swimming program to wear us out. It worked. We became pool rats and we’re still pool rats. It started as a way to manage the disorder without drugs. I still have to have that structure, that focus and discipline to manage without medication. I couldn’t function if I did not have this structure. I get a sense of urgency with each practice.”

Mangen said he used athletics and training as a coping mechanism to compensate for ADHD. When he needed shoulder surgery a few years ago and was out of the pool for a while, he had to go on medication to keep his life under control.

“It was awful,” he said. “It really made me realize how important exercise and a schedule are to me.”

Training, he said, is not a hobby or a habit; it’s a way of life.

“It’s what I do,” he said “It’s who am I. It’s what keeps me put together.”

Mangen said he met his soul-mate in his new bride, Mellissa. The St. Leo cross country coach is expecting a baby on Christmas Eve.

“I’m really lucky I met a woman with much the same lifestyle,” he said. “When I started at St. Leo she popped her head in to say hello and invited me to an open water swim at a nearby lake. We became good friends and then started dating and now we’re married with a baby on the way.”

Mellissa, he said, deserves some of the credit for his magnificent run to the flag to win the South Jersey competition against the younger Maloy.

“I used to just run, now I train,” he said. “She helped me to focus, to run in a way to achieve performance. We drove from Michigan to Florida and stopped in every state to run three or four miles. It’s our joy. People ask me, ‘you still do that?’ We both exercise a lot. We always will.”

Coaching, he said, lights up his life.

“People think it’s x’s and o’s and you go out and win, it’s so much more than that,” he said. “Having been an athlete helps me tremendously. I learned so much from Bill. We spent a lot of time together, he got to know me and there is a certain understanding. We communicate, we’re emotionally supportive of one another. We know each other’s thoughts. We go to church together on Sunday. It’s all about doing the right thing. I have utilized so much of what I learned on the beach patrol in my own coaching, and vice versa.”

Mangen said winning swimming competitions in South Africa, Japan and Canada over the winter were exciting. He looks forward to competing in Egypt, but the real rewards in life come from giving back.

“I became a senior guard and with that comes more responsibility,” he said. “Bill taught me about community service, about helping kids and older people on the beach. Last week I helped an elderly lady who got ‘parked in.’ She came to the beach very upset, she could not get her car out. I got more joy out of helping her than you can imagine. I enjoy working with the younger guards and helping children.

“We get a lot of lost children on the beach, to be able to help a distraught parent is important. Lifeguards are ambassadors for Ocean City. It’s important that people have a positive experience.”

Mangen said he looks forward to returning to Florida next month and working with the college swim team. He also looks forward to the birth of his first child. But more than anything, he yearns to bring a new baby back to the beach.

“I’m planning on coming back for at least another 20 years,” he said. “It helps my professional and personal development. Ocean City is home to me. I told the chief that he’s stuck with me. I’m going to be a lifer.”

Ann Richardson can be e-mailed at annrichardson@catamaranmedia.com This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it or you can comment on this story by calling 624-8900, ext. 223.

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