Norman V. Inferrera III wanted to become a lifeguard for so long.
On June 12, he finally got the chance. On that day, the 16-year-old was old enough to take the test to qualify for the Cape May Beach Patrol. Chief Harry Back said the incoming junior at Phoenixville Area High School told him that he had prepared for the opportunity for two years, in part by watching YouTube videos.
Like many in the Philadelphia region, Inferrera, of Phoenixville, had spent summers at the Jersey Shore and looked up to the lifeguards overseeing the season’s eager swimmers, Back said.
“He just always had an admiration for what the lifeguards did,” Back said. “He had a love of the ocean. That’s what kind of pushed him and drove him to work really, really hard over the past two years to try out for a beach patrol.”
Inferrera would be able to realize his lifeguard dream for only about two months. He was performing a patrol in the ocean around 11:30 Thursday morning when a wave flipped his boat off Reading Avenue Beach, knocking him unconscious, according to City Manager Michael Voll. Inferrera was taken to Cooper University Hospital after lifeguards came to his aid. His death Friday night was announced by Cape May officials and family members Saturday morning.
As friends and family mourn the teenager’s death, Back remembered him with a list of adoring adjectives: amazing, self-driven, intelligent, and hardworking. Still vivid is that lifeguard test day when Inferrera, who was an honor roll student, walked into an intimidating interview room and took the time to shake each person’s hand.
“As a 16-year-old young man, his maturity level, he was a genuine, good young man,” Back said. “The moment he opened his mouth you’re like, ‘OK. This kid has got it.’”
Inferrera “fell in love with rowing” after becoming a lifeguard, Back said, and learned that side of the job through the Cape May Beach Patrol’s “best rowers” and later “was in that boat every single day.”
“As any intelligent, driven person does, how do you get better?” Back said. “You seek out those that are better than you to teach you. And he wasn’t shy about asking.”
Michael Cesarski, head boys’ soccer coach at Phoenixville Area High School, said Inferrera showed the same attitude on the soccer field when he played as a freshman for the junior varsity team. Cesarski described Inferrera as respectful, polite, hardworking, and friendly — someone who had the ability to find himself in many different friend groups.
“He just was one of those kids who was willing to do whatever you’d ask of him,” he said. “He was a pleasure to work with.”
Phoenixville Area High School principal Rose Scioli said school counselors would be available to students on Monday, according to an email memo shared in a Facebook group.
“Those who knew Norman know what a remarkable young man he was, and this loss is felt greatly by our community,” Scioli said in the email. “We ask that you hold the Inferrera family in your thoughts at this time.”
Scioli did not reply to a request for comment.
A candlelight memorial for Inferrera was scheduled for Sunday at 8:30 p.m. at Reeves Park in Phoenixville, according to Scioli’s email. In the event of rain, it will be held Tuesday.
A GoFundMe account started by a family member to pay for medical and funeral expenses had raised more than $145,000 as of Sunday evening; the goal had been $15,000.
“The Lord called my beautiful nephew Norman home last night,” Kathleen Inferrera Price wrote on the GoFundMe page Saturday. “The family is overwhelmed with sorrow. The bright light in this tragedy is the support and prayers that have been pouring in.”
There was an immediate outpouring of support on social media over the weekend.
“My heart, prayers, and condolences go out to the Inferrera family,” Cape May Mayor Zachary Mullock said in a statement Saturday. “Even at such a young age, Norman was loved by his fellow lifeguards. No words can express the sadness suffered by all of our Beach Patrol family.
“Norman chose to protect others. He did so professionally and worked hard at it. That is an extraordinary attribute for anyone, especially at 16 years old.”