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Medal of Valor

The highest lifeguard award presented by USLA is the Medal of Valor. The primary purpose for creating this award is to give due recognition to an individual lifeguard who voluntarily risked their life, to an extraordinary degree, in saving, or attempting to save another person, or who sacrificed themselves for the benefit of others. USLA also extends the Heroic Act Award to non-lifeguards.


2016 Medal of Valor Recipient:
  • Aaron Pendergraft - Lifeguard, Cal State Parks (Sonoma)
On February 26, 2015, Aaron Pendergraft, 16-year veteran Sonoma Coast State seasonal Lifeguard and volunteer firefighter/emergency medic in Bodega, responded when a huge wave swept a Clearlake family off the beach at Goat Rock. Despite warning them an hour earlier to not venture down to the surfline, he spotted them at the surfline on his drive back from patrolling other beaches to the south. Driving onto the beach, he saw the family of 4 overcome by a huge wave. Without flotation devices or wet suit, he dove into the 52 degree water, with his eye on the smallest member (7 yr. old Angeleek). The father and a bystander had managed to pull one of the youngsters to shore. (The bystander also used the patrol radio to keep the dispatcher advised.) Angeleek's 15-year-old brother tried to hold onto her, but she was swept out to sea. The mother then ran into the ocean hoping to save her, but she too was soon at risk. Pendergraft soon reached Angeleek, but they were in a hazardous trough where the 20 foot waves hit hardest. He grabbed her and dove, then resurfaced for air a few times, until they were finally out of the trough. Pendergraft saw the mother 20 yards away and directed her to calmer water, where he and Angeleek soon joined her. Knowing that help would arrive, the 3 of them stayed in the safer water (for close to 30 min.) until a Sonoma County Sheriff's helicopter plucked all of them to safety.
2016 Medal of Valor Recipient:
  • Christopher Connolly - Lifeguard, Cal State Parks (Ventura)
On December 11, 2015, Chris Connolly, a veteran Ventura State seasonal Lifeguard and his partner Tucker Zimmerman were watching the Ventura pier fall down (during the largest el Nino event in years) when they received a surfer-in-distress call. Driving to Faria Beach, they located the surfer and relayed their plan to dispatch. With Zimmerman handling all communications, Connolly doned his wetsuit and grabbed a rescue buoy and fins. Using the current to his advantage, they drove further up the coast where Connolly entered the water and swam to the surfer. So exhausted that he couldn't even get onto his board, the surfer was soon strapped into the rescue tube by Connolly. But, the rescue was not over. Unable to reach shore because huge waves were battering the rocks and washing away beach areas, Connolly once again used the current to travel 3/4 mile towards Solimar beach where an off duty lifeguard had found an egress spot. Both Connolly and the surfer were then helped to shore by a firefighter. Zimmerman said that under the most treacherous conditions, Connolly not only saved a life that day, but risked his own.


USLA Lifeguard Medal of Valor
     Recipients from California agencies

Albers, Bob 1999 San Diego, CA
Bartlett, Mike 2005 Huntington Beach, CA.
Beuerlein, Mike 1989 Huntington Beach, CA
Blackford, Matt 2010 Newport Beach, CA
Borland, Tim 2003 Port San Luis Harbor District, CA
Brown, Mark 2012 San Diego, CA
Buck, Nathaniel 2009 California State Parks, CA
Carlson, Ben (posthumous) 2014 Newport Beach, CA
Carter, David 1991 Cal State Parks (Russian River District)
Cicchetto, Sean 1996 San Diego, CA
Coats, Eric 2006 Cal State Parks (Lake Perris)
Connolly, Chris 2016 Cal State Parks (Ventura)
Corbo, Christian 1998 Laguna Beach, CA
Culp, Casey 1998 California State Parks, CA
Feighan, Mark 2010 San Diego, CA
Fellars, Timothy B. 2009 California State Parks, CA
Fesler, Jeff 2003 Port San Luis Harbor District, CA
Gitelson, Joel 2006 Los Angeles County, CA
Grigsby, Scott 1994 Los Angeles County, CA
Griguoli, Rich 2003 California State Parks, CA
Harris, Ed 1999 San Diego, CA
Higa, Brian 2012 City/County of Honolulu, HI
Horn, Brit 2005 Sonoma Coast State Beach, CA
Keulana, Brian 1996 Honolulu, HI
Korber, Paul 1998 Ventura County, CA
(posthumous to rescue effort)
Larsen, Billy 2003 Pismo Beach, CA
Liebig, Peter 2010 San Diego, CA
McDonald, Daryl 2010 San Diego, CA
Meyer, Greg 2010 Newport Beach, CA
Milligan, Joe 1989 California State Parks, CA
Murphy, Timothy 1996 California State Parks, CA
Northhelfer, James W. 2009 California State Parks, CA
Panis, Marc 1989 Huntington Beach, CA
Pendergraft, Aaron 2016 Cal State Parks (Sonoma)
Pepper, Laine 1999 San Diego, CA
Quigley, Patrick 1998 Laguna Beach, CA
Quigley, Patrick 1999 San Diego, CA
(this is his second award)
Raines, Dave 1999 San Diego, CA
Snow, Kevin 1998 Laguna Beach, CA
Sproull, Mark 1998 Laguna Beach, CA
Stephenson, Michael 1996 California State Parks, CA
Straub, Don 1991 Cal State Parks (Russian River District)
Tegland, Ormand 1998 Laguna Beach, CA
Trager, Tom 1998 Laguna Beach, CA
Vipond, Jon 2010 San Diego, CA