Lance Mann

Lance Mann (right)

Lifeguard Trainee Toughs It Out At 59.

Candidate hits the water under instructor son's eye.

by Terry Rodgers for the San Diego Union Tribune

It was goose-bump cold and raining, but Dan Mann had every right yesterday to tell his father to take a flying leap off the Imperial Beach pier. No disrespect was intended.Mann, 26, was merely performing his duties as an instructor with the San Diego County Regional Lifeguard Academy.

His 59-year-old father, Lance Mann, is the oldest person to enroll in the local lifeguard academy in its three-year history. It's a case of the father following in his son's footprints in the sand.

"Lifeguarding seemed like the perfect natural step for me to take at this point," the elder Mann said.

All his life, Lance Mann has felt a kinship with the ocean. He's been an avid swimmer who set high school records. He's surfed for more than 40 years. He's also a competitive paddle-board racer, a grueling sport that is equivalent to running a marathon with one's shoulders and arms. In his youth, he was a Navy SEAL.

More recently, he's been in the midst of one of life's transition periods. Last year, he decided to trim his sails and steer his life toward uncharted waters. He abruptly resigned from his job as a restaurant executive, a career he'd grown weary of after 20 years. He thought maybe he'd dabble in real estate. Then he looked at his son, a civilian lifeguard at North Island Naval Air Station, and saw a reflection of the waterman he had always aspired to be.

"There's no one that I admire more," Mann said about is son.

And he decided one more thing: It's never too late. He'll be embarking on a career at an age when many lifeguards have hung up their swim fins. Lifeguards for the city of San Diego are eligible to retire at age 50.

"In the past two years, I'd flown a couple of hundred thousand miles," he said. "Now I want to be able to ride my bike to work."

Yesterday, the father's wheels were churning inside his heart as he hurled himself off the pier along with 20 or so other lifeguard academy grunts. Earlier in the week, he struggled through a cold, rough-water ocean swim. The howling wind had turned the sea into a tempest. The waves were huge, foamy battering rams. At the halfway point, the father's eyes met those of his son, who was acting as a safety monitor and human buoy.

"He was purple and gray," Dan Mann recalled. "He was whipped. Tired."

When Dan Mann asked what was wrong, his dad didn't want to complain about the flare-up of asthma that was burning his lungs.

"I'm doing fine," the father fibbed, swimming off into the inky sea. He gutted it out, finishing last in that particular training exercise. But he finished.

Lance Mann has been "Da Man" at this year's lifeguard academy, according to lifeguard Sgt. Greg Buchanan. "He's the class favorite for a lot of reasons," said Buchanan. "It's not only his age, but his personality. He's a special man."

Other classmates, men mostly in the 18-to-25 age range, have been cheering each of Mann's physical triumphs during the sometimes arduous 10-day boot camp.

"He has some down-deep perseverance," said Buchanan.

Mann has already passed the three mandatory physical tests involving a 500-meter open-water swim that must be completed within 10 minutes. Barring an injury or illness, he should easily pass the academy, which ends tomorrow.

Graduation from the academy entitles the candidates to compete for part-time lifeguarding jobs at eight agencies countywide. Dan Mann said he's tried his best not to show any favoritism toward his dad, but it hasn't been easy to suppress his admiration.

The father and son have already shared some classic moments together. In 1994, they were the first father-and-son team to finish the 32-mile Catalina Classic paddle-board race from Avalon to Manhattan Beach. They repeated the feat in 1996.

"There was never a question in my mind of him finishing the academy," Dan Mann said.


ENS Lance Mann graduated with UDTR Class 28 (west coast) in August of 1962. His younger brother, LTJG Dan Mann graduated with UDTR Class 35 in September of 1965.

On April 4, 1967, as a member of SEAL Team ONE's Kilo platoon, LT Daniel Mann was killed near the mouth of the Vam Sat River, Vietnam, along with two of his teammates, Donald Boston and Robert Neal. The SEALs were aboard an LCM when they were ambushed by a B-40 rocket attack.

Lance Mann named his son, Dan, after his younger brother.

Lance Mann


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