By Gary R. Rasberry
Paul Mangen has always been attracted to the water, be it in a pool or the ocean.
The Celina native has taken his love for swimming not only to the coaching level, but also the competitive level.
Mangen took part in the 2005 International Surf Challenge and the Australian Nationals as part of the United States Lifesaving Team. Mangen, who has been competing in lifeguard events while working as a lifeguard on the beaches of New Jersey each summer, was selected as the captain of the U.S. contingent.
"It's a great honor," said Mangen during a conversation while home in Celina for a short visit. "It would be second only to competing at the Olympics."
The events, which brought together over 8,000 athletes and 22,000 fans, range from swimming, running, paddleboarding, kayaking and rowing. "Australia is the Mecca of lifesaving competition," said Mangen. "If you're the best in Australia, you're the best in the world."
Mangen, a top swimmer at Celina and later an eight-time All-American at Wheeling Jesuit University, competed in 11 events, mainly in the swimming portion of the competition. Mangen finished in the top 11 in all events. Team USA finished fourth in the five-team standings with host Australia edging out New Zealand for the title.
With Australia being the center of lifesaving competition and many of the world's best being from the continent, Mangen was able to shock some with his performances, especially in the rescue swim competition, one of the events he finished second.
"They didn't even know my name," said Mangen. "I got back and my teammates were talking about the commentators on the live broadcast. They talk about the competitors down there like you're talking about Lance Armstrong in the Tour de France. Then here I am, in a USA pinny, finishing second.
"I got to rub shoulders with some of the top pro athletes. It was fun with all the live cameras around the competition," added Mangen.
Mangen was overwhelmed about his time at the competition.
"This experience was, by far, the most exciting and prestigious of my athletic career," Mangen wrote in a letter about his experience. "However, I couldn't help but think of how I got there and all those who have supported me."
Mangen, who is the head swimming coach at West Virginia Wesleyan College, gives credit to his success to all his coaches, especially former Celina coach Sue Slavik and her family.
"Sue Slavik accepted me into her family and without her guidance, Lord knows where I'd be," wrote Mangen of Slavik, who passed away in 2003. "She passed the torch down to her children, who still check up on me, but I know she's still taking care of me from above."
Mangen also credits his parents for nurturing his love of swimming.
"I don't know how or why she went to all those swim meets," wrote Mangen. "But I'm sure lucky she did. My father instilled the knowledge of water into my brothers and I at an early age."
Mangen remains busy. After making a short visit home this week after spending a week in South Beach in Miami and then a recruiting trip to the West Coast, Mangen heads back to Ocean City, New Jersey for the summer.
"It's one thing to the next," said Mangen. "Saturday, I start working at the beach."
His performance Down Under has already helped in his recruiting swimmers for WVWC and for himself.
"When I was at South Beach, I stayed with a friend from the National Team, and when I was in California recruiting, I stayed with a guy from the Australian team," said Mangen. "Lifesaving is a fraternity. You've heard of the game Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon? It's like that in lifesaving. I could say I have a friend and someone else would say 'Well, I worked with that guy here.' It's one big fraternity."
While there, Mangen will get ready to compete in the United States Lifesaving Association Nationals, held Aug. 10-14 in Virginia Beach, Va. Based upon his efforts there, as well as his performance in Australia, Mangen could likely make the next national team when the Surf Challenge takes place in Victoria, Australia.
"What it will do is several things," said Mangen. "Since I have already been on the team and was the captain. Obviously, they're going to take that into consideration. The next world championships are going to be in Australia again. They know I have the experience with the big breaks down there."