Every year, 1.2 million people die from drowning, according to United States Lifesaving Association. Of those 1.2 million, less than one percent happen under a lifeguard’s watch.
With Memorial Day around the corner and pools opening up for the warm weather, drowning is always in the back of my mind.
I’ve worked as a lifeguard for three months at Rocking Horse Ranch Resort in Highland, N.Y. I wake up in the middle of the night, my heart racing because my nightmare told me someone was drowning in my water. Watching my water is what I do with the hope that I’ll never have to see a body at the bottom.
I grew up around water. Every summer when I was in grade school, I traveled to my grandparent’s condo in Fenwick Island, Del. I swam in the seashell-shaped pool from 9:00a.m. until the pool closed at 7:00p.m.
My best friend was the lifeguard. She knew me as my grandmother “Mickey’s” kid.
When I was six, I decided to cross under the rope towards the deep end of the pool. At first, I bobbed through the 4-feet-deep water towards the ladder on the other side of the pool. Then, I couldn’t touch the bottom anymore so, I doggy-paddled towards the ladder.
I got tired.
I couldn’t reach the bottom of the pool anymore, and my head started dipping below the surface against my will. My 60-year-old grandmother jumped in the pool and pulled me to the side—the lifeguard continued to read while tanning herself in the burning sunlight.
The biggest fear for a lifeguard is change: change in the way your water looks, change in the way a guest is swimming, change in someone’s heartbeat. That lifeguard’s in Fenwick Island biggest fear was sunburn.
Fifteen years later, I was an American Red Cross certified lifeguard. I was now certified to save people’s lives. The summer passed, then winter break and finally in February, I got hired at the Ranch.
One small problem: did I really remember C.P.R.? It had been almost a year since I got certified. At that moment, no, I didn’t remember how, but Red Cross’s certification cards said I did know how.
My water supervisor at the time, Eric Tucker, said, “You know as much about C.P.R. as most Red Cross guards who come here.” He was being sarcastic.
One month later, I got certified under a new system: Ellis and Associates. This system requires a lifeguard to attend four hours of in-service training each month to keep C.P.R. and other first aid skills as second nature rather than forgotten.
Over the past three months, I’ve treated multiple bloody noses, given out a dozen or so Band-Aids, and saved towel from the bottom of the pool. No, I haven’t had to rescue anyone, but that means I’m doing my job. It means I’m being proactive instead of letting people dip under the surface like I did so many years ago.
I joke about my newly acquired lifeguarding skills to my friends, “I could save your life right now.” Some think it’s cool, many laugh and think I’m bragging, but it’s something I think about constantly.
If you were to collapse right now, I have the power to save you. And after just three months as a Ellis lifeguard, I’m ready to save anyone.