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Jan 19, 2015 3:20 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

East Hampton Volunteer Ocean Rescue Selects Member of the Year

Jan 20, 2015 11:43 AM

When Southampton optometrist Dr. T.J. Calabrese isn’t watching after his clients’ eyesight, he’s scanning the beach for those in need of help and actively creating a safer shoreline.

The 50-year-old is a member of the East Hampton Volunteer Ocean Rescue who devotes much of his time to teaching ocean and water safety and protecting the community. Having spent six years of active duty instructing junior lifeguards, re-certifying lifeguards, covering open water events and triathlons, and responding to emergencies, Dr. Calabrese was named the 2014 East Hampton Volunteer Ocean Rescue Member of the Year.

Richard Kalbacher, former chief of the ocean rescue squad, said that the award is given to any member who stands for what being a volunteer means.

“T.J. volunteers his time, his talent, his brain—he’s a smart guy—and like a lot of other members he’s been one to step up and ask, ‘What can I do?’” Mr. Kalbacher said. “He’s been there since he joined, doing everything he can possibly do and moving the squad in the right direction. His heart is into it, and he’s a great guy who doesn’t step away whenever there’s difficulty.”

Dr. Calabrese said he is honored to be the member of the year, but points to his fellow ocean rescue members—there are 82 of them—and the Ryan family as to why the program is such a great one.

Six years ago, Dr. Calabrese, who practices at Southampton Optiks on County Road 39, joined the ocean rescue squad when his children, Amanda and T.J., were in the junior lifeguard program in East Hampton. He has been swimming in East Hampton for more than 30 years, just a tad longer than he’s been practicing optometry, but had never been a lifeguard. He said he was looking for a way to give back to the community and found his love of the water to be his way in.

“It is a perfect fit,” he said about the ocean rescue squad.

Since then, he has been an instructor for the junior lifeguard program, teaching 9- to 14-year-olds ocean safety and helping them pass their lifeguard tests.

“It’s extremely rewarding teaching 9- and 10-year-olds who are afraid of the ocean, to respect and enjoy the ocean,” he said.

In line with watching out for young swimmers, Dr. Calabrese also started the Volunteer Ocean Rescue’s scholarship fund, which gives $500 scholarships to East Hampton High School seniors who participate in any Hamptons lifeguard association, is a junior lifeguard or part of the East Hampton Hurricane Swim Team.

Dr. Calabrese’s children are also avid swimmers. Amanda lifeguards at Ditch Plains in Montauk, and T.J. is taking his ocean test in June, so he can be a lifeguard in Amagansett in the summer.

Dr. Calabrese said the squad practices in the evenings at Indian Wells Beach in Amagansett, where sometimes they end up rescuing someone in the surf, and in the winter, they do classroom training and have pool time.

When he helps others with certification training, it is often a two- to three-day undertaking that Mr. Kalbacher says is a “tough mental test,” which Dr. Calabrese has taken a couple of times. “To be in your 40s and 50s and to pass a grueling test that 16-year-olds take says a lot,” he said.

Dr. Calabrese, who is married to Lynne Calabrese, also swims with the East Hampton masters swim team and is a past president of the East Hampton Lions Club and a former member of the East Hampton Town Zoning Board of Appeals.

“To be recognized by my peers is validation that I’m doing the right thing,” he said. “We’re really a good group of guys with the same goals. We all love the ocean. It’s not work, it’s fun.”

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This story is so inspiring. Dr.Calabrese found a perfect way to help others, spend vital time with his kids and connect with the awesome ocean. Congratulations!
By wavepainter (1), sag harbor on Jan 22, 15 9:20 AM
Couldn't happen to a nicer person and a great eye dr too.
By rv (38), watermill on Jan 22, 15 1:00 PM
Congratulations Dr. Calabrese!! Thank you for your continued commitment to the community and for being such a great role model for the youth in EH.
By ShelleyB (28), East Hampton on Jan 22, 15 11:45 PM