By Michele J. Kuhn
SHREWSBURY – Mike Barrows knows a thing or two about saving lives.
A borough resident, Barrows, 39, is chief of pediatric endocrinology for The Children’s Hospital at Monmouth Medical Center and has offices on the Avenue at the Commons. He also works as a lifeguard along ocean beaches and enjoys great success in “ironman” contests.
“I love the ocean and I love the water,” he said.
Even when he took on new responsibilities as a doctor and family man, Barrows’ love affair with the ocean and its challenging, changeable nature continued through his participation in triathlons and lifeguard tournaments.
His most recent success came earlier this month in Cape May at the U.S. Livesaving Association’s National Lifeguard Championships. He won three national titles in the 35-39 age group: the American Ironman competition, the 400-meter swim, and the run-swim-run event. He also took fifth place in the Ironman event for all age groups. He participated in 14 races during the three-day competition.
“I’ve been ocean lifeguarding since I was 16,” he said, and currently works for the Sea Girt beach patrol. Representing Sea Girt and Monmouth County in the lifeguard tournament, Barrows focused mainly on the ironman competition, which combines swimming, paddleboarding, and rowing with running.
He grew up in Red Bank and, at age 6 or 7, learned to swim at the YMCA where he competed on the club level as a youngster. He swam in high school for Mercersburg Academy in Pennsylvania, which had a nationally acclaimed swimming program, and continued swimming at Brown University.
Barrows now trains with the New Jersey Race Club, an aquatics team coached by a friend. Members of the team are younger than Barrows but he finds that training with youthful swimmers “makes you work harder… they push me.”
It was his love of swimming and the water – and growing up in this area with the ocean at his backdoor – that led to lifeguarding and swim competitions.
“Throughout the high school and college years, that’s when I really started my open-water lifeguard training,” he said.
His lifeguarding experience has helped him in competitions. “As you get older … the experience goes a long way in the ocean in terms of learning how to row and to paddle and also learning about currents, weather conditions, and waves,” he said.
“What I like about it is that it’s not always predictable and you need to factor [those things] into your experience. The waves and conditions can really work toward your advantage and they can really be a disadvantage to you. It depends on how you play the cards,” he said. “Some of my best events have depended on how I catch the waves and some of my worst events have been determined by the waves that I missed or the poor course that I swam.”
Barrows also likes that “there’s no clock” in the competition. “It’s you versus your competition” which includes both fellow lifeguards and the elements. “Fitness level is a big factor, but knowledge and racing smarts is very key to success,” he said.
The father of three daughters – identical 2 ½-year-old twins Grace and Audrey and 4-year-old Ellison – trains year-round, often doing two-a-day workouts five to six days a week during summer months.
He finds it challenging to balance his career as a physician, with family responsibilities and swimming, so he often carves out training time early in the morning and again after work.
As section chief for the Center for Disorders of Insulin and Metabolism at The Children’s Hospital, Barrows treats infants, children and adolescents with diabetes, thyroid conditions, and other illnesses.
He has been a lifeguard in the past at Bradley Beach and has worked part-time for 14 years at Sea Girt, where he loves the camaraderie. He considers Sea Girt a “well guarded beach” with persons who are dedicated to keeping physically fit. He generally works there during August and into September, when younger guards head back to college.
Barrows will be in a new age group next year but he’d like to compete in tournaments “as long as my body and mind allow … I will hopefully, God willing, always compete in my age category,” he said.
The example he has set has already rubbed off on another family member. Ellison Barrows has begun taking swimming lessons and the 4-year-old has already announced that she might like to get into competing, just like her daddy.