New Fitness Center Honors Beloved Wrightsville Beach Ocean Rescue Captain

WRIGHTSVILLE BEACH, NC (WECT) – There’s a new first responder fitness center at Wrightsville Beach that honors the late Jeremy Owens, a beloved ocean rescue captain.

The Captain Jeremy Owens Public Safety Fitness Center was completed last month and is located inside the Wrightsville Beach Fire Department. Several UNCW professors came up with the idea for the new facility and saw it for the first time on Monday morning.

Those who knew Owens well say the fitness center is the perfect way to pay tribute to him.

“UNCW and Dr. Tseh offered us some sort of potential partnership. I mean, it seemed like a no-brainer; it’s a great idea,” said Sam Proffitt, captain of Wrightsville Beach Ocean Rescue. “Especially trying to, you know, create something in memory of Jeremy, and Jeremy being such a big fitness advocate, it seemed like a perfect partnership.”

Dr. Wayland Tseh, Dr. John Lothes, and Dr. Alex McDaniel of UNCW’s School of Health and Applied Human Sciences created a GoFundMe in June 2021 to help raise funds for the facility. Proffitt also held a live auction at Jimmy’s on Wrightsville Beach which succeeded in raising a significant sum of money. In total, the community stepped up and raised $50,000 for the installation.

“People who work for Ocean Rescue and Fire can come here and stand up and think about him,” McDaniel said when he first saw the facility on Monday. “The goal is to provide health, fitness, strength and conditioning services to Ocean Rescue, the Wrightsville Beach Fire Department and the Wrightsville Beach Police Department.”

McDaniel said they hope to bring a trainee to the Wrightsville Beach Fire Department to provide services and classes two to three times a week. The programming would be made specifically for first responders.

“Any time you do any sort of scheduling for any type of health or fitness class, you schedule based on the needs of the individual and the needs are very specific for police and fire depending on the stress they’re going through, so you kind of adapt it to meet those needs,” McDaniel said.

“For all of us who have very physically active jobs, it’s just a great resource to have here at work,” Proffitt said.

The fitness center will not only help first responders improve their physical health, but also their mental health.

“There is a strong relationship with some type of fitness, physical well-being, health, and reduction in depression and anxiety,” Lothes said. “We’re really trying to help come together to help first responders with the things they’re facing in their lives,” Lothes said.

Friends and family say Owens battled his own mental health battle and tragically lost that battle in the fall of 2020.

Mental health issues can pose problems for anyone, but they are especially common among first responders. Research shows that they suffer from depression and post-traumatic stress disorder at higher rates than the general population.

“There’s a close relationship with people who work as first responders — high stress levels, high anxiety levels, substance abuse, depression,” Lothes said.

That’s why he also hopes to provide first responder services in Wrightsville Beach and raise awareness of mental health issues and available resources.

“We want to educate the public until we de-stigmatize it because a lot of people don’t talk about it, or it’s ignored, or they stuff it. To de-stigmatize some of the issues around mental health issues, suicidality, as well as some of the resources available,” Lothes said.

If you or someone you know has mental health issues, you can get help now.

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is a helpline for people in crisis or for those looking to help someone else. To speak with a certified auditor, call 1-800-273-8255. Crisis Text Line is a texting service for emotional crisis support. To speak to a qualified auditor, text HELLO to 741741. It’s free, available 24/7 and confidential.

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