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The highest lifeguard award presented by USLA is the Medal of Valor. The primary purpose for creating this award is to give due recognition to an individual lifeguard who voluntarily risked their life, to an extraordinary degree, in saving, or attempting to save another person, or who sacrificed themselves for the benefit of others. USLA also extends the Heroic Act Award to non-lifeguards.

2014 Medal of Valor Recipient:

  • Ben Carlson (posthumous) - Lifeguard, Newport Beach
  •        On July 6, 2014, Ben Carlson, a 15-year Newport Beach lifeguard, jumped off a boat to help rescue a struggling swimmer. He never surfaced. An autopsy determined that he died from accidental drowning and found scrapes and bruises on Ben’s forehead and nose. The swimmer made it safely back to shore. Conditions were turbulent, with waves reaching 10-12 feet. It was a weekend of many rescues because of strong rip currents. On July 13, nearly 1000 people turned out for a paddle-out honoring the 32-year-old lifeguard at Newport Beach. And, a memorial statue of Carlson will be erected on Balboa Pier. On Oct. 9, the United States Lifesaving Association issued its first posthumous Medal of Valor award to Ben Carlson, with his parents accepting in his honor. "We can never say thank you enough. What he did, saving that person’s life, was amazing. We just wish he was here to celebrate with us," said Mike Beuerlein, president of the California Surf Lifesaving Association.
    2012 Medal of Valor Recipients:

  • Mark Brown - Lifeguard, San Diego
  •        On November 20, 2011, a 19 year veteran San Diego Lifeguard responded to a man stuck in a waste-water treatment's drainage pipe (known as "Gorilla Cage") along the Tijuana River Valley. The undocumented immigrant was trying to cut across the swift waters near the water facility in heavy rainfall to the U.S.. The victim was approximately 12 feet down the 20 foot underground pipe on a narrow cement ledge with bolts sticking up and water and debris falling on him when Mark suited-up and entered the 2-foot pipe-opening to conduct the rescue. The area was difficult to access, as a continual flow of water and rising level contained all kinds of contaminated and hazardous debris. If the victim had fallen off the cement ledge, he might not have survived. "When you're a rescuer you really don't think about the outcome or whether I'm able to put my own life at risk. The main focus was to get him out of there in a timely matter," Brown said. The veteran lifeguard, a member of the Boating Safety Unit, regularly patrols an area from Point Loma to Torrey Pines State Beach.

    USLA Lifeguard Medal of Valor
         Recipients from California agencies