Many years ago, intent on avoiding another high school summer spent bagging fast food orders or waiting tables, I came up with what I immediately knew was the plan of all plans.
Rather than spend my time sweltering in a kitchen, I would spend it at the pool. I would join the ranks of those brilliant classmates who arrived at work each day in a bathing suit and returned to school in the fall with golden tans and stuffed savings accounts. That’s right: I was going to be a lifeguard.
While not in any way qualified for the position in terms of knowledge, I did have at least one thing going for me: my mother, a strong swimmer and former Water Safety Instructor, had my sister and me in the water from the time we were born. The pool had always been a second home — so why couldn’t it now be my office as well?
As it turned out, lifeguard jobs were plentiful in those years and the required training wasn’t unbearably difficult. They wanted to make sure you could swim reasonably well and knew what to look out for while keeping watch. When it came time to complete a mock rescue, as long as you didn’t toss out, say, a deck chair instead of the ring buoy, or claim you’d rather not get your hair wet, you were probably going to pass.
In fact, it wasn’t until one of the very last nights that the instructors hit us with the lesson that would very quickly reframe what exactly we were about to sign up for. That night we didn’t get in the water, and instead were ushered into a classroom filled with a dozen or so desks and a television. For the next two hours, we watched in silence as the instructor played videos of former lifeguards describing the accidents that had happened on their watch, and the people that they hadn’t been able to save. It was wrenching. By the time we were dismissed that night, two things had been made perfectly clear: Being a lifeguard was about far more than catching a tan, and life-altering accidents could happen in the blink of an eye.
I did end up getting a lifeguarding job that summer, and eventually went on to teach swimming lessons. And one of the first things we would go over in any of my classes was how to stay safe in and around the water. Some children I worked with loved the water and others were terrified, but my goal first and foremost was to make sure they respected it.
As you head out to beat the heat this summer at the beach, the river, the lake or the pool, I hope you have a wonderful time. More importantly, however, I hope you enjoy yourself safely and look out for those around you. Don’t take chances when it comes to the water, and don’t put yourselves or others in potentially dangerous situations.
Oh, and if you happen to see a lifeguard somewhere perched on a chair or strolling around a pool deck, please be a dear and do what they say.
I promise he or she only has your best interest at heart— and they might even save your life.