CAPE MAY - Cape May's Rob Moran and Wildwood's Katie Collins both rallied to achieve milestones at Friday's 39th SuperAthalon lifeguard race.

Moran came from behind to earn his third straight victory, tying Wildwood Crest legend Bic Murphy for the most consecutive wins in the 39-year history of the run-row-swim triathlon event. Collins staged an even more impressive comeback in the swim to become the race's first-ever women's champion.

"I still can't believe I won," said Collins, a 28-year-old lieutenant on the Wildwood Beach Patrol. "I had no idea. I actually thought I was dead last."

A strong, surging current had a major effect on the final standings.

Moran, who won the event for the fourth time in five years, was in second place after the 2.3-mile run and 1.5 mile row. Two-time champion Timothy Schwegman of Longport owned about a 50-yard lead at the start of the .25-mile out and back ocean swim.

Schwegman was swept past the buoy at the halfway point before he could round it, however, and was unable to backtrack. Moran successfully rounded it, exited the ocean about 100 yards up the beach, and jogged across the finish line in 47 minutes, 43 seconds.

"This year's race was the hardest one for me, personally," said Moran, who celebrated by hugging his wife Stephanie and their 8-month-old son Matthew. "I almost missed the buoy, too. I had to grab hold of it and pull myself around it."

Of the 14 male competitors who started the race, only three were able to make it around the buoy, according to race officials. Wildwood's Pat Clemens took second place in 48:30, followed by Stone Harbor's Jack Levari in 51:35.

Levari, a Vineland native, is a 2021 St. Augustine Prep graduate who is headed to Virginia Tech on a swimming scholarship. He was making his SuperAthalon debut.

"I almost missed the buoy like everyone else," Levari said. "I felt like I was floating on a mat down a lazy river. I was getting carried by the current and there was only a small window (of opportunity) for me to get around it and I barely made it."

Collins, a former swimmer at Temple University, was behind the other six women's competitors after the row and thought she had no shot at victory.

But one by one, her rivals got swept past the buoy while she managed to stay the course. She finished in one hour, six minutes, 16 seconds, while spectators cheered.

"Once I got past the rock pile (at the start of the swim), I actually swam perpendicular and away from the buoy and hoped that the current would carry me," Collins said. "I hit it with my side and had to wedge my way around it."

The other two women's official finishers - Cape May's Rebecca Luft and Avalon's Sarah Powell - did so with inspirational efforts.

Both did the swim course twice. After failing to get around the marker the first time, they swam to shore, jogged up the beach, and went back in the water while fans roared. Luft, a former swimmer at Ohio State, finished in 1:17:02, followed by Powell in 1:27:39.

Luft, 23, collapsed in the sand after crossing the finish line, her head buried in her knees, before some fellow lifeguards helped her up.

"I'm so tired," said Luft, who is in her fifth year as a Cape May lifeguard. "But there was no way I wasn't going to finish. This is my race. I'm the reason this race even happened because I pushed for a women's division. I had to do it."