By Paul Goldfinger
If you went to the Ocean Grove beach on the flea market weekend of September 8 and 9, you would have noticed that the surf was very rough. The season was over for the lifeguard staff, although a few of them were still assigned to patrol on that weekend, but only until 5 p.m.
One of the off duty OG lifeguards, 22-year-old Casey Hekker, was on the beach that Sunday with her dad, Jack Hekker. They are from Connecticut, but they have a summer place in the Grove. It was late in the afternoon, about 6 p.m., and she noticed that the hurricane waves were strong and that the currents were fast. She said that if the guards had been on duty, they would have been flying one or two red flags because of concerns about rip tides. As expected, the surfers were busy out there, but she didn’t notice any swimmers.
Also on the beach at that time was another off duty OG lifeguard — Jack Arpert. Jack, a 21-year-old student at Franklin and Marshall College in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, had returned to the Grove to go surfing on those irresistible waves with some of his friends.
He had moved to the Grove full time a few years ago from Glen Rock, and he has been a lifeguard here for five summers. Jack was known as a very strong swimmer and, according to Casey, “a great lifeguard.” All season the OG guards were saving people from drowning, but they were able to minimize the rip tide risks by their preventive techniques where they recognize the dangers and deny swimmers access as needed.
Casey told me that lifeguards feel safe surfing in such dangerous waters because they know what to do if they have a problem. She said that untrained swimmers, however, are at great risk because the rip currents tend to occur near the jetties, and a swimmer can be overwhelmed and sucked out to sea or into the rocks.
It was still daylight when Casey and her dad saw a blur run by at high speed. It was Jack Arpert carrying a boogie board that he grabbed when he noticed someone in trouble out near the end of a jetty. Casey and her dad looked out in the direction where Jack was going. They saw a man in the water by the rocks. He seemed to be swimming. But Jack evidently perceived something else going on — that man was in serious trouble. Jack’s dad, Judge Douglas Arpert, told us that experienced lifeguards can watch someone in the water and sense a problem even before it becomes apparent.
When Jack reached the man, he got the struggling victim to grab the board and then they both were drawn farther out past the jetty. The man, about age 60, was exhausted and having trouble breathing. Once Jack cleared the breakers, he began to bring both of them parallel to the shore and then turned to swim in.
As the two reached near the shore, Casey and her dad ran out to help. The victim seemed to be near collapse. His bathing suit had been ripped off by the rocks — he was totally naked. A crowd quickly gathered. Casey gave him a towel while he regained his breath. Jack was breathing hard, but he recovered quickly. Once it was clear that the victim was OK, Jack turned to rejoin his friends. He didn’t want to attract attention to himself. Both Jack’s dad and Casey told us that this hero is very modest. I asked Jack’s dad if his son had described the rescue and he said, “Jack just said that someone was in trouble and he helped. That’s Jack.”
The victim got up and approached his rescuer. He said that he would have been dead without Jack’s assistance. He called Jack his “guardian angel.” Casey agreed that Jack Arpert had saved a man’s life that day.
We tried to reach Jack at school, but his voice mail has not been turned on. Also he didn’t answer a text message. Why am I not surprised? Jack Arpert, Ocean Grove lifeguard, did what he thought was necessary, and he’s “not the type” to seek acclaim.
SOUNDTRACK: MY HERO by the Foo Fighters: