Greenwich lifeguard celebrates 25 years of beach work, 22 as a teacher

GREENWICH — Inside the Lifeguard Shack on Island Beach, lists of names separated by exposed wooden beams decorate each inner wall panel, as if marking a hall of zinc-nosed, whistle-bearing celebrities.

Michael Dorrian took off his polarized sunglasses inside the shack to wipe his brow during a brief reprieve from the 90-degree afternoon last Thursday. Its interior was illuminated by sun rays breaking through a skinny, wall-length, frosted window.

“If you look right here,” he pointed to a faded mark on one panel, “this is the first year I wrote my name when I started in 1992.”

For a quarter of a century, Dorrian’s name has adorned each year’s wall lists, because when Dorrian, now 41, first became a lifeguard, he knew Island Beach was where he wanted to spend summers looking out and governing the shore, he said.

Dorrian’s mother didn’t know how to swim, he said, so his father ensured that he could do it well. He grew up a Bruce Park kid, and spent summers riding his bike to the Island Beach Ferry with his family.

“I remember when he came to me as a swimmer,” said Dorrian’s former Boys and Girls Club swim coach, Lenny Rodriguez, who is about to celebrate his 27th year working for Palm Beach County Ocean Rescue in Florida and 50th birthday this September.

“His (Westchester-Fairfield Swimming League) swim times during his first year qualified for the Boys and Girls Club National Swimming Championship,” he said. “He was always helping raise money with car washes, helping pack up; he was always there, it was fantastic. (And now) he’s an excellent young man. He’s a good teacher. He’s an excellent father.”

While walking down the path past the concession stand at the Island on Thursday, Dorrian waved at a group of four women — lounging in beach chairs with sunhats and baseball caps — including one equipped with a fly-swatter.

“We have a birthday girl over here!” he said to the ladies, joking that one had just turned 25.

The birthday girl corrected him; she turned 99 this year.

When Dorrian asked what her secret was, she said, “Island Beach!”

“You get to know people,” he said continuing down the path. “The locals, that’s why I love this place.”

Once Dorrian started lifeguarding at 16 years old, he worked summers in Greenwich for 10 straight years until he graduated from college and started focusing on his career: teaching. An interest in Asian history hooked him on learning Japanese and Mandarin.

After spending two years working at the Japanese boarding school, KO Academy, and two years at Trailblazers in Stamford, Dorrian has made his home at Paramus (N.J.) Catholic High School for the past 14 years, teaching American history, introduction to Japanese language and culture, economics and political science to juniors and seniors.

Now he teaches AP U.S. History, is the school’s director of international programming and runs Paramus Catholic’s Model Congress, taking groups of 25 kids to Pennsylvania to compete.

Although he said he always pictured himself a public school teacher, he feels private school education is a perfect fit.

“He’s a very important asset to the school,” said Acting Principal and President Stephanie Macaluso last week. “He’s very motivational, very spiritual, Christian-like, and he has values inside and outside the classroom.

“He has vision for international students,” Macaluso said. “He has this ease in helping transition them to our school — he’s almost like our international liaison. He’s visionary in that he shows the students that in such a large world, we are really in a small world, and really gives that handshake between continents.”

Dorrian said he feels like an “over-glorified camp counselor” for the Beijing students he works with as part of the school’s Chinese exchange program, bridging the gaps between education, communication, Christianity and Beijing.

“I teach them democracy, and that it’s OK to go to Christianity school, go to Mass if you’re not Christian,” he said, looking out from the sand on Island Beach toward Greenwich Harbor. “No one’s going to die. It’s OK to learn new things.

“Catholic school teaches people the golden rule,” he said. It’s different when “you can pray for someone with cancer, or someone’s parent … and with the bullying, cyberbullying, losing faith and what’s going on with Snapchat — morality, we need a little more than we used to.”

Through the Japanese Chamber of Commerce and Industry of New York’s U.S. Educators Program, Dorrian was offered the chance to tour Japan this summer.

He is still jet-lagged from his flight home July 16, he said, but he is already back at the beach.

In total, Dorrian has spent 25 years lifeguarding at beaches in Greenwich. He has a home in town with his wife and son and said he plans on lifeguarding at Island Beach, where he spent so many summers as a kid, until he can’t anymore.

”I can’t believe I actually have a place in Greenwich,” Dorrian said, “and I’m teaching future lawyers, doctors and economists. And, get this: They say I help them be more successful lawyers, doctors and economists.

”After wearing shirts and ties and woolen socks,” he said gazing at the sandy beach, “after lesson plans and kids — coming here, this is freedom.”

E:; T: @jturianoGT; IG: @greenwichgreen

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