Two California State Parks Seasonal Lifeguards Receive the Governor’s State Employee Medal of Valor Award

California State Parks is proud to announce that two seasonal non-peace officer lifeguards received the Governor’s State Employee Medal of Valor Awards for acts of heroism on Tuesday, June 25, 2024, in Sacramento. Maxwell Hunter and Riley Rhodes received the Medal of Valor Award, which is the highest honor the state can bestow upon its employees, given on behalf of Governor Newsom.

“While the California State Parks staff being honored this year may say that they were simply doing their job, the heroic and selfless acts they and all of our public servants perform every day while putting their own lives at risk are to be admired and recognized,” said California State Parks Director Armando Quintero. “At State Parks, we all feel privileged to be on your team.”

Seasonal Lifeguards Maxwell Hunter and Riley Rhodes from the California State Parks’ Santa Cruz District were recognized for their heroic act of rescuing a swimmer during hazardous conditions at night at Poplar Beach in Half Moon Bay on Jan. 21, 2023. As they were about to finish their shift, they received a report of a lost swimmer. As they arrived on scene, they caught a glimpse of the distressed individual 300 yards out. Facing large swells more than eight feet high, they navigated toward the swimmer but as they approached the location, the swimmer was nowhere to be found. Guided by the victim’s screams for help, they reached him 500 yards from shore.

Due to the hazardous conditions and darkness, units on shore, on vessel and helicopter lost sight of the lifeguards and victims in the ocean. Hunter and Rhodes ultimately decided that they had to swim to shore with the victim in a rescue buoy in complete darkness, while navigating dangerous conditions. After being in the water for nearly an hour in large winter surf and rip current conditions, they eventually arrived ashore near Redondo Beach, almost a mile from where they had first entered the water.

The Medal of Valor Awards ceremony included 29 awardees who represented five state departments: the California Department of Transportation, California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, California Department of Parks and Recreation, and the California Highway Patrol.

The Medal of Valor Awards is sponsored by the California Department of Human Resources (CalHR). Award nominations are made by the employee’s department, reviewed by the statewide Merit Award Board, and selected by the Director of CalHR. Since the program began in 1959, 800 state employees have received Medals of Valor.

The award comes in two distinctions: the Special Service Award (Silver) for an act of heroism by a state employee extending above and beyond the normal call of duty or service performed at personal risk to his or her safety to save human life or state property, and the Special Act Award (Gold) for an extraordinary act of heroism by a state employee extending far above and beyond the normal call of duty or service, performed at great risk to his or her own life in an effort to save human life.

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California State Parks provides for the health, inspiration and education of the people of California by helping to preserve the state’s extraordinary biological diversity, protecting its most valued natural and cultural resources, and creating opportunities for high quality outdoor recreation.