US CITY: 03/3/2007 – At age 65, [lifeguard name] is the oldest lifeguard at the [YMCA name] Family YMCA. But don't tell her she's too old to save a life.
Swimming, a lifelong passion, has carried [lifeguard] into her golden years.
Each morning around 5:30 a.m., [lifeguard] reports to the YMCA where a “die-hard” group of working people is waiting to take their daily wake-up swim. Once the pool is open, [lifeguard] stands guard to ensure swimmers enjoy a safe morning workout and they leave refreshed.
“I never dreamed I would work at the YMCA,” said [lifeguard], who retired three years ago from [employer]. “I've learned if you're passionate about your vision, it may come to fruition.”
[Lifeguard] was working as an executive several years ago when her brother, a retired Army colonel, purchased the old riverfront Hospital. That was about 20 years ago, and today the former hospital is the Health and Racquet Club.
[Lifeguard] said she didn't mind her job, but nothing was holding her back from taking on new challenges.
“I became executive director of the Health and Racquet Club until we sold it in 2003. Then I retired and did nothing for two years.”
While at [health club], she was a regular swimmer there. She'd also go swimming at the pool at the U.S. Coast Guard base. At the base, [lifeguard] made several contacts that eventually helped her earn her lifeguard certification.
One day last year [lifeguard] was swimming at the base pool during her lunch break when she ran into [friend], who used to work for her at Health and Racquet Club.
“I said, 'I love swimming, I want to be a lifeguard – can I?'” she asked him, she said.
“If you can go down and get this brick, you can try out,” [friend] replied, she said.
[Lifeguard] swam 7 feet to the bottom of the pool, grabbed the brick and resurfaced. She next swam back and forth across the pool several times with the brick.
That's how she earned her tryout, which required her to rescue a large muscle-bound swimmer who pretended to be drowning and was sinking, she said.
[Lifeguard] passed the lifeguard certification test, but she was not offered a lifeguard's position at the base.
“The Coast Guard never hired me. I was so disappointed,” [lifeguard] said. “I think they thought I was a woman of 64 years old and couldn't do it.”
Then her friend made a phone call last May that changed her luck.
“He spoke with the aquatics director at the YMCA,” [lifeguard] said. “She called me and hired me.”
[Lifeguard] said she is loving every day of her post-retirement “career” as a YMCA lifeguard.
She said she stays in great shape by eating healthy and staying active by exercising, mainly swimming.
[Lifeguard] works most mornings 5:30 a.m. to 9 a.m. During high school swim season, she helps as a lifeguard at evening practices for the High School swim team.
She said she always loved to swim, but she never thought she'd end up retiring and then starting a new career doing what she loves most.
[YMCA director] said he's been impressed with [lifeguard] vigor for many years.
“She's inspirational,” he said. “She's going to keep doing more and more and more.”
Most aquatic directors face the same problem – there is only a small pool of candidates available from which they can hire lifeguards and other aquatic staff. The problem is compounded by a relatively low pay scale when compared to the training and credentialing that is required of applicants. As aquatic safety issues become the subject for the news media, more kids are deciding that they don’t want the burden of responsibility that accompanies lifeguarding – it isn’t like Bay Watch after all.
The normal pool of applicants is young – some starting as young as sixteen with the significant majority under 25. The reasons for the age bias include a relatively low pay scale, mostly part-time employment, often unconventional or irregular schedules, and a limited path for advancement. Along with young workers, naturally, come the dispositions and attitudes of youth – maturity may be lacking, responsibility may be under-developed, commitment may be more to self and friends than to a job or unknown others, and attention may be short and/or unfocused. Obviously, those are just possible limitations for there are countless young people who are fantastic lifeguards. Most aquatic directors who have such guards have worked hard to find and develop such a resource, however – they are not a commodity that is readily available.
Recently there has been significant concern about the wisdom of placing the young in such positions. There is concern that many will not have the life experience that may be necessary to recognize or to react appropriately in an emergency. There is also debate as to whether the young should be exposed to the trauma that accompanies a near drowning or drowning. It is an experience that will severely tax the emotional resources of any adult, and the fear is that it may destroy a young person.
Mature unencumbered adults, i.e., the active retired, those with children who have left home, are away at school, or are in school for periods of time that will allow the parent freedom to make scheduled time commitments, are a very viable resource pool for aquatic staff.
As a group they are mature, dependable, and conscientious, have significant life experience on which to draw, and understand that bad stuff can happen. They have experience dealing with people in general and kids specifically as most have kids or nephews and nieces of their own. The part-time nature of the job and potentially irregular schedule are not necessarily deterrents as most don’t want full time employment. Since they are not trying to support a family with this job, the pay scale usually is not an important issue. Frequently they are seeking a way to give back to the community and the Y provides them such an opportunity. As any other applicant, they must go through the required training and be capable of performing all the skills of the job – after all, they will be a real lifeguard.
Non traditional lifeguards can be a great asset to many YMCAs as aquatic directors look outside the box to find good quality staff. The utilization of such nontraditional resources as retirees, mothers, or other mature adults is a great way to find the quality lifeguards needed for a successful pool.
Please call us at 800-463-8546 to discuss this or any other risk management safety tip, or visit our web site at www.redwoodsgroup.com to learn more about YMCA risk management issues.