By DONALD WITTKOWSKI and MADDY VITALE
Jack Devine, who is 82 years old, said his cardiologist has given him two words of advice to stay healthy: Keep rowing.
On Thanksgiving morning, Devine and his rowing partner, Jack Brooks, were doing just that while plying the picturesque waters of Great Egg Harbor Bay in their two-man boat.
Brooks, 65, couldn’t resist poking fun at the ages of both Jacks in a sport normally dominated by young men and women.
“A pair of Jacks: When you combine our ages, we’ve got everyone beat,” he said, laughing at his own punchline.
Devine and Brooks, both of Ocean City, joined with other rowing enthusiasts on a gorgeous fall morning for the 3.5-mile Pilgrim Paddle regatta that has been a Thanksgiving tradition at the shore for 15 years.
Altogether, 26 surfboats, crew shells, coastal rowing shells and paddleboards took to the waters of the Great Egg Harbor Bay, off the Beesleys Point beach in Upper Township, for a trip around Drag Island and back.
“We have a record turnout – every kind of boat you can imagine,” said Wayne Mac Murray, the race organizer.
Mac Murray, who lives in Upper Township, is a former Sea Isle City Beach Patrol member and a four-time gold medalist in the U.S. Lifeguard Association national championships.
For the Pilgrim Paddle, the 68-year-old Mac Murray teamed up with rowing partner Jimmy Gibbons, 62, a retired former lifeguard in Sea Isle, Wildwood and Upper Township. They finished in 31 minutes, 51 seconds.
Mac Murray spent 15 years as a lifeguard in Sea Isle, 10 years in Wildwood and 22 years with the Upper Township Beach Patrol. He is a member of the Sea Isle City Beach Patrol Alumni Association Hall of Fame.
Gibbons and Mac Murray showed Thanksgiving morning that they both still have their strong rowing form, even in their 60s.
“It feels real good,” Mac Murray shouted while heading out at the start of the race a little after 9 a.m.
Although Mac Murray and Gibbons are a combined 130 years old, they still couldn’t top the seniority of Devine and Brooks at a combined 147 years old.
“Let me tell you what my cardiologist has said to me – keep rowing,” Devine noted of his secret of keeping in good shape.
Outside of his rowing pursuits, Devine is well-known as an author and former senior CIA agent. During his 32-year career with the spy agency, he served as both acting director and associate director of the CIA’s operations outside the United States.
Before his CIA career, Devine was a lifeguard with the North Wildwood Beach Patrol from 1956 to 1962. Brooks was a member of the Ocean City Beach Patrol from 1974 to 2019.
Devine and Brooks finished the race in 37 minutes, 28 seconds.
The Pilgrim Paddle attracted a number of current and former lifeguards from throughout the Jersey Shore, including hometown rowers from the Upper Township Beach Patrol.
Conditions were ideal, with sunny skies, temperatures in the low 50s, a light breeze and placid waters in the bay next to the Garden State Parkway’s bridge connecting Upper Township and Somers Point.
“What a gorgeous day. It was a great way to start Thanksgiving,” said Ray Derman, an Avalon Beach Patrol member.
Derman and his rowing partner, Ryan Finnegan, also an Avalon lifeguard, removed their shirts and were bare-chested to finish the race. Some of the other rowers took off their shirts in the mild conditions.
“I figured it would get hot out there,” Derman said of working up sweat.
Ocean City Beach Patrol Lt. Brian Pasternak, who competed on a prone paddleboard, enjoyed the friendly competition Thanksgiving morning.
“I’m the only one today,” Pasternak said of being the sole lifeguard from Ocean City to participate in the row.
Pasternak, an Upper Township resident, competes in the Thanksgiving row every year.
“I went out on a 14-foot board,” he said. “The weather was perfect. It’s just a nice day to get out and enjoy the water.”
He finished first among the prone paddleboarders. After the row, he was greeted by his two daughters, Brynley, 5, and 2-year-old Callie.
Although the regatta featured a number of competitors with lifeguard and rowing experience, Mia Grylicki was a complete novice while teaming up with her boyfriend, Jon O’Neil.
“It was hard,” Grylicki said. “Coming in, I thought it would be a lot easier than it was.”
O’Neil said the conditions for the race were nearly perfect.
“They couldn’t have been much better. There was not much wind,” he said.
Grylicki and O’Neil currently live in Charleston, S.C. O’Neil is originally from Upper Township and was a lifeguard with the Upper Township Beach Patrol. He is Mac Murray’s stepson and serves as a petty officer with the U.S. Coast Guard.
O’Neil and Grylicki took over a boat owned by Joe LaRosa Jr. LaRosa, of Sea Isle, and his wife, Barb, both 69, were planning to row in the Pilgrim Paddle but they came down with the flu.
In addition to the Pilgrim Paddle boat race, the family-friendly event included a free fun run and walk on the Garden State Parkway’s pedestrian walkway over the bridge linking Somers Point and Upper Township.
Following are the top three overall finishers:
- Vince Granese and Nicholas Guidara, Atlantic City Beach Patrol, 29 minutes flat, a course record.
- Mike McGrath and Sean Duffey, Longport Beach Patrol, 29:34.
- Joe O’Neil and Will Schlucter, Upper Township Beach Patrol, 30:36.