I squinted through the sunlight and scanned the water in front of me. With my teeth clenched on my whistle, I paced the hot concrete. All of a sudden, the slide screeched as an older woman plunged into the pool. I instinctively moved towards the struggling guest with my safety tube outstretched, ready to execute my training. Suddenly, she emerged from the water and exited the pool. Whew! It was a false alarm. While heading back to my stand, I was interrupted by the creaking of another slide. This time the water seemed to be moving faster, and a young girl was flailing her arms as she tried to surface above the water.
Within seconds, I jumped in with pure adrenaline. I immediately made eye contact to assure her that everything would be okay. As I looked into her panic-stricken eyes, I couldn’t help but think how my life had changed since the beginning of summer. This past summer I was adamant about getting a job. I wanted to earn money for my senior year expenses, and my best prospect was to work at a local water park. I originally applied for a job in food concessions, but to my surprise, I was called back for a lifeguard position. Lifeguard? Were they serious?
If someone were to look at my body frame and notice my clumsy tendencies, they would think I needed saving. I felt conflicted. With little to no other options, I decided to go for it. I decided this was an opportunity to get out of my comfort zone. The worst the park could say is no, and I’d just have to find another job. After navigating through a group interview, the water park ultimately called me back to begin lifeguard training. To say| was anxious on my first day was an understatement. My palms sweated at the thought that everyone in training would be experienced swimmers, divers, and/or past lifeguards, and I ould be the only amateur that would fail.
To my relief, I found that my training partners were a motley group of high school and college students in the same situation I was: with little to no training. During began CPR procedures, I tried to process the quick information and keep up, but often times got confused. Luckily, my training buddies would give me a hand and I did the same for them. Over the course of three days, we all got to know each other as we practiced CPR on the dummies and hanging out during our down time. I felt calm during class around my friends, but I knew I would be alone during examinations.
To continue to develop my skills, I practiced CPR after class every day, reviewed the swimming maneuvers nightly, and talked myself through emergency action plans. After training for a couple of days and meeting such a great group of people, I knew I couldn’t disappoint my trainer, my newfound friends, or more importantly myself. I was determined to get this job. I remember my final swimming exams in front of the wave pool at the water park. Just like the eight-foot-deep water in front of me, my stomached churned and my body was tense.
As I scanned the water (according to procedure), I recognized my trainer; she was beginning to duck in and out of the water, simulating an unconscious submersion. Blood flooded my veins and my stomach felt fluttery. I immediately blew my imaginary whistle, crouched for my compact jump, and sprung into the water. My arms and legs began to move rapidly as I made my way towards my trainer, and I saw my hands slicing through the water. I grabbed my saving tube, shoved my arms under her armpits and pulled her arms over the safety tube. I then rolled the tube under her back, accurately executing a rear hug maneuver to “save” her.
My trainer smiled and congratulated me. The whole experience was exhilarating. I passed my swimming, CPR, and safety exams with flying colors. I had to pinch myself several times. Despite how I initially felt about becoming a lifeguard, l’d done it! Now, I just had to execute my skills in real situations. On my first day of work, I felt even more nervous than the first day of training. It was sinking in that now I would be saving people who were truly in distress. There could be no accidents. This was a lot more responsibility in contrast to my simulation training and normal obligations at home with chores and watching my little sister.
My body felt like a ball of nerves; at my first station I anticipated everyone needed saving and stood at the edge of the stand. My neck began to ache from the sharp turning as I scanned the water, left to right, right to left, and zig-zag. I had to be alert at all times to ensure guests were safe and had a great day at the park. I wanted to be able to help someone and prove to myself I could apply my skills outside of a controlled environment. My next station was in between two slides in the water. As I moved from my station for the first time, I began to relax and appreciate the warm sun and breezy air.
I had nothing to prove. I knew I could do this. I watched the more experienced lifeguards, as indicated by the colorful beads on their lanyards, and tried to model their movements. Although at first it was awkward, I made friends with the other lifeguards, learned a few tips, and felt comfortable asking my team leader questions. Day by day I fell into the rhythm of manning stations, executing saves, and cleaning up the visitor areas. As the season continued, I was also constantly being assessed with safety audits to retain my training skills.
When I thought of the audits, I imagined myself obliviously scanning the water as a doll floated in the water right in front of me. Thankfully, I always remembered my training and managed to control my nerves when my supervisors would discreetly throw a doll into the water for me to save. Lifeguarding was beginning to no longer feel like foreign territory for me. I felt confident in my abilities and had a team of fellow lifeguards to support me when I needed help. Whenever | begin to daydream in school, sometimes I think back to my first job and how it felt to to be a lifeguard.
When I reflect on my past summer, I realize that embracing the chance to become a lifeguard meant refusing to be complacent and challenging myself to try something new. My overall experience this summer was eye-opening. I felt empowered by how I could use my skills to help to other people and eventually overcome my fear of failure. Although I succeeded in becoming a lifeguard, I realized I had to work hard and In addition, maintaining a job required me to make more mature decisions regarding balancing my time, managing money, and contributing to my family.
At first it was bothersome cleaning up in some of the most disgusting areas of the park, trying to develop a schedule, and balance different activities, but looking back, it has also prepped me to become more responsible. As I continue to take on more adult responsibilities, I have a whole new respect for my parents, and the sacrifices they make to maintain their jobs and take care of our family. Working a job, especially as a lifeguard, has taught me invaluable lessons that will continue to help me in school and family life.