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New fitness facility honors beloved Wrightsville Beach Ocean Rescue Captain

The Captain Jeremy Owens Public Safety Fitness Center was completed just last month, and is located inside the Wrightsville Beach Fire Department.
Published: Feb. 8, 2022 at 9:15 AM EST
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WRIGHTSVILLE BEACH, N.C. (WECT) - There’s a new fitness facility for first responders in Wrightsville Beach that honors the late Jeremy Owens, a beloved Ocean Rescue Captain.

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

Those who knew Owens well say the fitness facility is the perfect way to honor him.

“UNCW and Dr. Tseh came to us about potentially kind of partnering together. I mean it seemed like a no-brainer; it’s a great idea,” said Sam Proffitt, Wrightsville Beach Ocean Rescue Captain. “Particularly trying to, you know, create something in the memory of Jeremy, and Jeremy being such a huge advocate of physical fitness it just seemed like a perfect partnership.”

Dr. Wayland Tseh, Dr. John Lothes and Dr. Alex McDaniel with UNCW’s School of Health and Applied Human Sciences set up a GoFundMe in June of 2021 to help raise funds for the facility. Proffitt also arranged a live auction event at Jimmy’s on Wrightsville Beach that managed to raise a significant amount of money. In total, the community rallied together and raised $50,000 for the facility.

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

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

“Whenever you do any sort of programming for any sort of health or fitness class you program to what the needs are for the individual and the needs are very specific for police and fire do to the amount of stress that they undergo, so you kind of tailor it to fit those needs,” McDaniel said.

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

The fitness facility will not only help the first responders with their physical health, but also their mental health.

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

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

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

“There is a strong relationship to people that work as first responders — high levels of stress, high levels of anxiety, substance abuse, depression,” said Lothes.

That’s why he also hopes to provide services for the first responders at Wrightsville Beach and to raise awareness about mental health struggles and the available resources.

“We want to educate the public as far as destigmatizing it because a lot of people don’t talk about it, or it’s ignored, or they stuff it. To destigmatize some of the issues with mental health concerns, suicidality, as well as some of the resources that are out there,” Lothes said.

If you or anyone you know is struggling with mental health, you can get help now.

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

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