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BEEP…BEEP…BEEP! At 5:45 am I drag myself out of the cozy cloud I call my bed, stagger out the door, and hurriedly turn on the heater in my car before heading off to state lifeguard training. I arrive at Huntington State Beach at 7 am with my peers, with no assumptions about the next four weeks of lifeguard training. All I know is that May has chilly ocean temperatures and is famous for towering surf…but water and waves had no control over my fate.
Immediately, I did not fit in. Surrounding me in the classroom were 59 super-athletes, all of whom were taller and stronger than I. How would I finish the swimming races without placing last against these washboard abs and ‘V’ shaped torsos, and with my 5’10” frame, how could I stand a chance against a 6’4” athlete?
In an academic setting, size and muscle mass are irrelevant, but this classroom consisted of soft sand and the Pacific Ocean. I had mentally placed myself out of the race, but I didn’t want to waste a 5:45 wake-up call, so I decided to give it my best shot.
The initial swim was 1000 yards open-ocean, with a half-mile run to the finish. If the combination of 57-degree water and six foot waves was not enough, the entire race was done in a paper-thin Speedo. Watching the sculpted bodies nonchalantly jump in the water for the pre-race was like watching Roman statues hop in for a quick ocean cool off: I was intimidated. When a 6’5” professional water polo player jumps into frigid water without flinching, the competition is stiff.
After the signal, I charged through the water and had a surprisingly quick swim that landed me a second place finish out of the sixty-person group. I stood on the beach and breathed a sigh of relief, realizing that the pre-race intimidation was utter nonsense. I kept my cool and collected attitude throughout the remaining 100+ hours of training, and earned the respect of my peers on the beach.
The “bleeding scenario” was on the final weekend, and our lifeguard instructors forewarned us that even minor mistakes could steal the dream right from our fingertips. With graduation 24 hours away, it was a key obstacle to pass.
A veil of silence surrounded the “scenario”. We were told not to discuss it, which created a surprise for everybody. I was next in line, and I would be lying to say that I was not dying with curiosity. In my navy blue training uniform, I turned the corner of the brick building, and found a person surrounded by an ocean of blood screaming for help. The setup seeped with realism. My adrenaline was pumping and an endless stream of thoughts started sprinting through my head. I verbalized that I was checking the scene and assessing vital signs, and then suddenly music started blasting from right behind me. “Onlookers” ran up and hollered jibberish in my ears. Trying to stay calm, I went through the mental checklist, saved the victim, and passed the scenario. I credit my success to the time spent memorizing written instructions and applying them to a real world situation.
As one of the youngest trainees in the group, I had to overcome intimidation, which hindered me until I completed that first swim. Finishing lifeguard training with the honors of top 10 in the class has prepared me for obstacles outside of the classroom.
Eight weeks later… With a few real world scenarios under my belt, I have seen people at risk, panicking in the ocean, and saved them. When a sixteen-year-old girl is crying and thanking me on the beach while onlookers are clapping at an act of bravery, there is overwhelming pride in the lifeguard purpose.
Running back up to my lifeguard tower after a hard day’s work, I am confident in my abilities. Going outside of my comfort zone paid off, and I am ready to take on any challenges regardless of my initial reaction. With the challenges of college, I will charge right through the waves of difficult situations and make quick transitions without intimidation.
Even if chilly Eastern weather replaces the ocean and a tree-lined campus replaces the waves, I will remain wholehearted in my lifeguard value of serving others.
Standing at the open window with the wind blowing in just the right direction at exactly 7:15 pm on those May evenings, there might be a chance to hear the future lifeguards chant, “We are NOT the center of the universe, but we are here to SERVE! HOO-RAH!”