... is not actually what we call ourselves, but they were the only lifeguards I could think of when I was working on a title. Wendy Peppercorn is obviously me because I'm in charge (I'm not actually in charge either, but I write the blogs so I get to call myself whatever I want). Really, Seth is in charge and is kind of head lifeguard over us, but individually we are all competent and know what to do; we can handle ourselves. So I guess we're all Wendy Peppercorn.
I wanted to write this blog post about life-guarding because it seems, perhaps to the outsider, to be the easiest part of our job; and some days it is! Life-guarding has a lot of benefits too - like getting a nice tan and just being able to sit down for an hour or two. But, there are times it can be the most stressful part of the day, and I've found that the stress level is always directly dependent on the age of the camp that is swimming and the amount of campers in the pool. 50 or 60 high schoolers? No big deal. But, 50 or 60 Middlers (remember, that's 4th, 5th, and 6th graders) - now that could give me some gray hairs. Or like this past week, with 126 middle schoolers... I was bald by Wednesday night. Kidding. High schoolers are generally old enough to have learned how to swim, or if the can't swim, they usually at least have enough sense to stay in the shallow end. Middler or Beginner campers, however, aren't quite old enough and experienced enough to know when they're too tired to keep jumping off the diving board (for the 47th time in one hour), or they are simply not a strong swimmer yet. So while life-guarding is relaxing on some days, it can be very hectic on others.
So, if it isn't just chillin' by the pool and getting that super dark coppertone glow, then what else does lifeguarding at NGCC look like?
First off, before we open the pool Sunday night, or whenever the first swim for each camp is, we give the campers the pool rules. Now, for some reason the decision of who actually says the rules to the kids is always made after small, grumbling arguments like, "I did it last week!" or, "Jeff hasn't done it yet!" (Seriously though, will Jeff ever be a real lifeguard?) Nobody ever really wants to do it. Maybe it's like when you're a kid and you're asked to pray out loud in front of the church and you would rather die than do it... Or, it could be that you don't want to be the mean parent life-guard and have the kids hate you on the first night of camp... I don't actually know why, but since I've worked here it's always been a thing. Anyway, sorry for the rabbit trail - back to the rules...
The rules are pretty basic. Don't run, don't do flips off the diving board, don't hang on the rope, and then you have your more serious rules that kids today are always breaking - rules like "no alcohol, tobacco, or illegal drugs allowed in the pool." (Kidding about that being a problem, WISH I was kidding that it is even a rule that exists on our pool rules sign). Now usually the rules are all forgotten by the time we open the gate anyway, and the natural instincts kick in as excited campers run as fast as they can toward the diving board despite countless whistle blasts and loud yelling. After the initial rush through the gate there is a line by the lifeguard stand for the people who want to take the swim test. To pass the swim test, one must simply swim the width of the pool using either a strong hybrid stroke or a freestyle stroke. Basically, we're just looking for swimmers who can confidently make it across the pool - so we won't have to worry about them making half that distance from the diving board to the poolside. This is usually where we do most of our saves. I guess sometimes kids get the idea that they are a strong swimmer, or maybe they just really want to swim in the deep end and let that desire outweigh the fact that they know, for sure, they cannot swim. Regardless, when they take the test, they get tired and can't make it to the other side which leads to a hasty leap in by us where we then pass them our life-guarding tube and become heroes.
I'll likely never forget the Beginner camper we had earlier this summer who lined up to take the swim test, waited and waited for his turn, finally got up to the edge to do it, and then jumped in and just sank straight to the bottom. Lauren and I (Lauren is a life guard/kitchen staff worker like me) were so suprised by his unusual way of starting that we that we were frozen for a moment. However when his hands were the only thing that surfaced, she promptly leapt in and scooped him up. He came up out of the water seemingly unfazed and exclaimed, "This is hard!". While we were surprised by his first try at the swim test given the result, we were even more surprised by his willingness to try the swim test again, and not a minute later he was jumping back into the water for another attempt, and like the first, sinking right on down to the bottom. This lead to another quick save and a warning to stay in the shallow end. This didn't discourage him though. He took it upon himself to learn how to swim the rest of swim time so he could retake the test, hoping he could jump off the diving board at least once before his camp ended. The kid had spirit, but as determined as he was, he never quite could get it... So, knowing it would mean the world to him, at the last swim time of the camp, we let him jump off the diving board while Lauren waited in the deep end to save him - as he would inevitably immediately sink. And the craziest thing happened... As soon as his body submerged, it was like the boy grew a set of fins! With the power of a young Michael Phelps, he quickly and confidently swam the whole length of the pool! ... I'm joking. He began to sink immediately, so Lauren pulled him out and took him to the side, but you should have seen how excited he was! He vowed to take swim lessons throughout the year and to come back next year and pass the swim test.
...All that to say that we rarely get any action other than swim test troubles. Thankfully. Our goal is to do a good enough job enforcing the rules that we never have any accidents.
After rules all that's left is to be observant and enforce the rules with whistle blasts and stern rebuking to ensure that everyone stays safe. I count it a good day when I don't have to do any hollering or whistling - it means that the rules are being followed. When it is finally time for the kids to get out and pool time is over, we blow a synchronized whistle blast (or at least try... there's always someone who starts too early or ends too late causing it to sound like an out of time wind ensemble) and herd the campers out of the gate. We also usually end up picking up towels and shoes left by campers inside the pool area as we leave. It seems like shoes would be a pretty hard thing to forget, but inevitably it happens every swim time. Then, we lock up the pool and we're done - all campers and life-guards accounted for (except Jeff, who is probably still asleep behind his sunglasses at his lifeguard chair).
While life-guarding is something you pretty much only experience as staff, you could always come up and check out the pool, take the swim test, and listen to us argue about who does the rules. But pool or not, come visit us and sign up for a week of camp! We'll be here to save you if you ever need it!