Aug 11, 2012

The Gift That Lifeguarding Gave me

     On July 27th, I climbed down from the guard stand for the last time.

     They don’t make maternity lifeguard suit’s y’all, so I figured I would go ahead and gestate full time instead. All this gestating makes me nostalgic, so I took a trip down lifeguarding memory lane. With pictures!

     It all started out innocently enough- Neighborhood pool on the navy base where I grew up, nearly right in my backyard…it only made sense that I would apply for my first job there. Before I donned the red suit though, I spent my first summer as the sales clerk. It was a demanding job. Filled with popsicles, magazines, sign-in sheets, rainy day games of spades and solitaire. Since the company was going through some big changes that summer, it was a bit unorganized, and I really had no idea what I was supposed to be doing.  Sometime you should ask me about how I kept my change fund for myself at the end of the summer. Not on purpose! I guess I just thought it was some type of bonus for a job well done?


     The next summer, my friend Whitney and I took the lifeguarding class. Aside from barely passing the eligibility swim {Swimming was not always a hobby of mine!} and cracking up while learning CPR, we graduated on the top of our class! My first summer as a lifeguard lived up to my glamorous a great tan, ate way too many Wendy’s frostys, played endlessly with my co-workers during adult swim, made enough active-victim rescues to feel legit, performed our minor cleaning duties with feelings of “Man- I work SO hard around here” and had just a regular good time.

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      Lifeguards who showed work ethic, maturity, high safety & rescue skills were given the privilege to go work at the Navy Base’s version of a water park, called  The Lagoon Pool. Friends, I am not sure how on earth I was assigned to Lagoon Pool the following summer since, I can assure you, I would not have considered myself hard working or mature at the time. Thankfully though, my rescue & safety skills have always been up to par, so perhaps that is what gave me the promotion. I think it had more to do with the fact that my good friend was the head lifeguard at Lagoon and just wanted to be surrounded by people that knew how to have fun :) In any event, I spent two glorious, completely carefree summers there as a lifeguard with minimal other responsibilities. I made best friends, went line dancing, babysat for many of our patron’s families, rode my bike to work, and made the most of thunderstorms.  Don’t worry, I also took pool readings, cleaned bathrooms, cleaned up vomit/poop in the pool, gave swim tests, played with camp kids, made too many rescues too count in the deep end stand, vacuumed the pool, was handy with the skimmer, and was pretty good at keeping the scum line clean. I think I finally learned how to work simply for the joy of working and taking pride in our facility. In fact, I had such a grand time at Lagoon, I had my heart set on managing Lagoon. I wanted to be the head guard!  It seemed like such a glamorous position! So I spent the next fall & winter working towards my Lifeguard Instructor and Water Safety Instructor certifications-both requirements of the job. My hard work paid off and I head guarded at Lagoon for the next 3 summers. I learned a lot in this position- mostly that while the fun wasn’t completely over, I had a staff of 16 or so guards, 5 or 6 sales clerks and a 50 plus meter pool that I was completely responsible for. It was a crash course in leadership, customer service and management. Despite the hard work and headaches, I loved {MOST} of my guards and I really loved that pool. Good times, great friendships and sweet memories resulted.

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boys modeling girls at work sam and I sam and i on slide summer 2008! 014

     In the fall of 2005-while working towards my instructor certifications, I joined the ranks of the flex guards- the year round part-time guards who manned the navy base’s indoor pools. So life went along, lifeguarding in between college classes, and teaching my first swim lessons/ lifeguarding classes that winter and spring. At the time, I had no idea how long these fall and winter lifeguarding days would be a part of my life. I loved lifeguarding during the crisp days of fall & squinting in that orange glow at autumn’s sunsets. I even loved Saturday morning shifts with hot tea & sleepy hello’s to all our swimmers. I cherished my afternoon shift, dubbed “therapy” since I shared those hours between 1:30 & 6 with so many close friends over the years. I remember Tuesday & Thursday evenings, spent convincing preschoolers to blow bubbles and float on their back. Teaching swim lessons meant watching kids grow up, bubbling over with excitement as they went from being scared to put their face in their water to swimming front crawl for 25 meters. Spring break brought all the high-school lifeguard candidates. I’ll never forget my knees knocking together and my shaking hands when I taught my first lifeguarding class. Or going on to work with some of my previous students and, noting their superior skills & workmanship, teasing them with questions like “You are a suberb guard...who taught you?!” And that time a group of amateur lifeguards, learning to backboard a spinal victim {yours truly} FLIPPED the backboard over with me completely strapped into it? Etched in my permanent memory!

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     I didn’t always love my job. I struggled when many of my friends graduated college and went on to new things. I didn’t plan on hanging around so long myself, but my senior year off college found me enrolling in grad school for my masters of Elementary Education..only to change my mind as I graduated with my bachelors. I was having an early-life career crisis. I joined the ranks of countless other college grads who suffered from “I-have-no-idea-what-I-am-supposed-to-be-doing-itis. I had a bad, depressing case of it & I resented lifeguarding because of it. Every time I slipped that suit on it reminded me of my seemingly lack of direction and success. Those 3 years I lifeguarded after graduating college challenged me in so many ways. I had so prided myself on my future career and the fulfillment and honor I was sure it was to bring me.  For so long I had imagined myself as a teacher and nothing else. So when my plans changed, I truly lost a part of my identity. I felt completely transparent and insecure, unsure of who I really was. Long term lifeguarding was not part of this plan and it certainly did not feel fulfilling and honorable at the time. I sulked around for more than I would like to admit during that time, feeling pretty lost! But it was that ‘early life crisis’, that period of confusion and hurt pride, that lifeguarding really gave me a gift.

Love these crazy people!


       You see, my co-workers were  close-knit team of guards who held a totally different attitude towards our work than I was used to with the summer crowd. It was a group of people who weren’t just there for the summer or through college. It was a staff who loved their job, made longstanding relationships with our patron’s, and took pride in our services and facilities.They had complete satisfaction and fulfillment in what I considered to be such a temporary job. I observed how they all carried themselves with such esteem as they worked hard to create such a fantastic experience for our patrons. They found satisfaction in serving right where they were. They enjoyed themselves, sought to improve our team constantly and simply taught me so much. Slowly, their examples of character & self worth rubbed off on me. I was finally becoming content, honored really, to be a lifeguard. I no longer avoided telling people what I did for a living. The resentment and embarrassment gave way to feelings of dignity and gratitude. My motivation to work was to serve alongside of them, better our facilities and truly just give glory to God in the exciting or mundane tasks. I learned that your identity was not what you do, but how you do it.  To this day, I really have to pinch myself when I think about the privilege of working with MWR alongside of such inspiring people for so long. What a gift! It was just supposed to be a summer job, instead it gave me one of the greatest lessons I needed. Lessons in humility and contentment. Lessons in true identity. 

     So to you MWR Aquatics, and  to you Brad, Amanda, Erica, Steve, Sara, Morgan…  and the many others who I shared a stand with…Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

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