WESTERLY — As a former Olympic rower and with experience as both a competitive collegiate swimmer and college swimming coach, Julia Beasley is connected to the water.
The connection is shared by her family: Cyrus Beasley, her husband, was also an Olympic rower, and their son, Jonah, will be a sophomore in the marine technology program at Chariho High School in the fall. The Beasleys’ two daughters, Helena and Sonja, are students at The Compass School in Kingston, a charter that is focused on environmental sustainability and social responsibility.
As Westerly’s new beach manager, Julia Beasley sees protecting the beach as her top priority. She is also a program coordinator for the town’s Recreation Department.
“I would say our biggest responsibility is to keep the beach clean,” Beasley said.
Under Recreation Director Paul Duffy’s leadership, the town staff have been working in recent years to implement a “green beach” initiative aimed at making Westerly Town Beach and Wuskenau Beach, the town-owned facilities, more environmentally friendly. Beasley is continuing those efforts, overseeing 25 young people who make up the beach crew.
“The kids who work here are the last line of defense for the ocean,” Beasley said.
Keeping the beach clean is a big job. Residents bought 3,200 beach passes for this summer and daily passes are sold for Wuskenau.
Her efforts include working with the operator of the Town Beach concession stand to reduce the use of plastic foam items. Reusable water bottles and insulated cups are now available for a donation to help reduce the use of large plastic foam cups, which can be virtually non-degradable. Plastic straws are no longer available from the concession stand.
“Straws are some of the worst kinds of plastics … no parent wants their kids drinking out of a straw. It’s the worst kind of plastic you can put in your kid’s mouth,” Beasley said.
The idea, Beasley said, is to keep plastic out of the ocean, where it is consumed by marine animals who mistake it for food. Ending the use of plastic materials in food service is largely a matter of getting the word out, Beasley said.
“The parents are so supportive of their kids in Westerly, and I think with just a little education they will join in our efforts” to eliminate the plastic serving items, she said.
Beasley, now 47, made the U.S. National Women’s Rowing Team in 1993 and competed in the women’s quadruple sculls in the Summer Olympics in Atlanta in 1996. She didn’t make the team in 2000, but did become head coach of the women’s rowing team at the University of Rhode Island, her alma mater. She studied sociology at URI and was a record-setting member of the women’s swim team.
While proud of her achievements and stature as an Olympian, Beasley said aspects of the experience were a grind.
“I had a bitter taste about sports and I didn’t want it to end that way … I was sad and thinking maybe the only way is you have to be a nasty, cheating jerk or be like Lance Armstrong,” Beasley said, referring to the seven-time Tour de France champion who was stripped of his titles because of doping allegations.
Beasley’s involvement with the Positive Coaching Alliance, which was formed in 2000, helped reignite her enthusiasm for sports. The alliance offers workshops, videos, and online instructional material aimed at teaching youth sports coaches how to make sports an enriching activity for kids.
“It really brought athletics full circle for me. It really grounds you as an athlete. You truly feel that you are part of something much bigger than yourself. It was healing for me and helped me feel good that I did everything I could to the best of my ability.”
Beasley met Duffy abut five years ago while giving a Positive Coaching Alliance workshop. She hopes to bring the alliance’s principles into her work as program coordinator for the department.
She said the alliance “tries to help kids find the best version of themselves, and it’s through helping them to understand how important effort is, not necessarily perfection.”
Duffy, during a recent interview, said he wanted to hire Beasley for years after listening to her workshop presentation at the Tower Street School Community Center. “I’ve wanted to start a rowing program … and was always gently twisting Julia’s arm,” Duffy said.
In January, when Beasley was hired, the department’s resources and Beasley’s availability came together.
“She’s a great addition,” Duffy said.
Beasley expressed gratitude for the opportunity.
“I’m happy to be here and fortunate to have this chance to keep my passions going,” she said.
In an era when parents hire specialized coaches to groom their children for scholarships or professional athletic opportunities, Beasley said the alliance, with its “better athletes, better people” approach, has a different focus.
“It’s not the scholarships that we’re looking for, but that they’re learning big life lessons through sports, and if they do that, they end up winning more and stick with it more and they don’t give up as easily,” she said.
The alliance’s message, Beasley said, is needed as high school teams in New England have struggled recently with rivalries spinning out of control and making neighboring schools enemies rather than friendly competitors. Youth sports also struggles with participants who fight eating disorders, predatory behavior, inappropriately extreme competition, and exposure to performance-enhancing drugs, she said.
“I can’t sit back and watch that happen. I was lucky to have coaches who truly respected my personal potential as an athlete. I want more people to be lucky like that,” Beasley said.
With an eye toward starting a rowing program at Winnapaug Pond, Beasley has been learning the ins and outs of the pond from an acquaintance who regularly rows there. Because the pond is shallow, she said, recreational singles, which are wider than competitive boats, would most likely be used.
Rowing, Beasley said, represents an opportunity for athletes from different sports to continue staying active. Her own route to rowing followed her time as a competitive swimmer. The move from one sport to another is a transition, Beasley said, that can bear important results.
“Athletics should never end. There’s a sport for everyone and there’s a champion inside for everyone. You may have a different struggle or you may have a different priority than others, but I think to have ownership of that is what sports is all about,” Beasley said.