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Boot Camp For Lifeguards
written: mid 5—2012
I have no idea how to even write this. I have been thinking about it forever, or so it seems, but I never knew how to write it. I know somehow that I must, before everything becomes too old, so here goes.
It all started when my Mom got her and I year round passes to the Athletic Center in my town for the swimming section. We swam every night for months, but I knew I needed serious help with my swimming. It was seriously bad. I signed up for swim lessons and I ended up getting them one-on-one with my instructor, Sage, who is 18. She helped me whip my strokes into shape in no time. We were talking one day and I told her how I wanted a job. She perked up and told me I should apply to be a Jeff Ellis lifeguard or a swim instructor for the little kids, since my swimming was definitely way better.
I took her advise and asked for an application. I filled it all out for swim instructor, cashier desk, and lifeguarding. My Mom didn't really want me to turn it in at first, but I think she realized that she has to let me out more into the real world. She didn't want me to get myself into another one of those holes where I think I like something, and then I get stomped on, like what happened to me in 7th grade basketball. But, BOY! WAS SHE WRONG THERE!
I took the application and turned it in. Without me even doing or saying anything, the very next day, I got a call from the aquatic center. It was a head manager of the lifeguards named Brian, requesting an interview the very next day.
I went in for the interview, feeling very nervous. It was my first interview in my life! But, it was surprisingly easy and lade back. Brian was very cool and asked me a bunch of questions and told me to just answer what I thought was the right thing to do. He must have been impressed by me. He asked me how I had heard about the job, and I told him about Sage and the swim lessons and how she had requested it to me. I was actually hoping that it would look good on Sage. Brian took lots of notes. Everything was so cool, Brian even demonstrated to me how he had a hard time with the side stroke, which is my best stroke.
I asked Brian how soon I would be notified if my interview was successful. He said as soon as the other head boss, Jerica, and him had gone through all the applications, he'd let me know in a few days. That kind of dropped my spirits, but rose them also. From the way he said, “all the applications and interviews,” it sounded like about a million kids had applied. But, maybe I stood out a little, if Brian liked my answers to the questions enough.
I held my hopes high, and when I was not even expecting it, there was a call from him four days later. MY INTERVIEW WAS SUCCESSSUL!!! I leaped for joy and literally sang at the top of my lungs. I was shaking, I was so happy, when I called Jerica to sign up for the guard class, swim instructor class, and the cashier class. I signed up for everything, because I didn't know what else to do.
I just about hit the ceiling, waiting for the guard training, which was the first one. I swam every day and really hard and worked to meet the requirements we had to be able to accomplish in order to pass the training; swim 400 meters without stopping, tread water with just my legs for two minutes straight, and swim to the bottom of the twelve foot pool and retrieve a seven pound brick and bring it back up successfully. I even brought a rock in a sock and dropped it to the bottom of the pool and practiced getting it. I was determined to not only pass, but to pass well.
The lifeguard training came, and it was the biggest brick-in-the-face if my life. It was absolutely nothing like I had ever expected. They put us all, a medium sized group, in a multi-porpoise room and started pounding our brains to pieces. Soon, we were on the floor running strict CPR routines while Jerica and Brian walked around, correcting every tiny little flaw, all the way to walking the pools and practicing our scanning for the five minute strategies and rotations. Jerica and Brian randomly popped questions on us to test our memories. They told us stories, showed us videos, through us in the water and made us do our three basic requirements so quick, I barely took a breath. We practiced saves, CPR, what to do in cases of heart attacks, etc. And we even practiced drowning. We memorized a million things and concentrated so hard, I could see steam coming out of everyone's ears.
Four people were sent home that night, just in four hours. “If you can't pass all of the requirements and you fail on one of the tests twice, lifeguarding is not for you.” That is what Brian and Jerica said to us many times. It was hard to watch those four kids leave, but it motivated us other kids all the better, because we knew more would leave before the training was over. We still had two full days, ten hours each, ahead of us. Even in that first night, it bonded everyone together, and, in no time, I had, and still have, two new friends named Amanda and Jarod. Together, through those three days, we stuck close by each other and encouraged each other on, giving encouragement, not only to each other, but to everyone; hoping and praying to God all the time, “Please, I know this is so selfish of me, but please do not let it be us to be one of the ones to be sent home. Please...”
We all staid up too late, studying hard from our new lifeguarding books we would be tested on in all kinds of different tests from a fifty question written test to demonstrating all three types of CPR, adult, child and infant, all by ourselves in from of Brian or Jerica. New friends called each other and we studied over the phones and asked millions of questions, even over Facebook and emails. It was clear; we were definitely changed in that first night. We all knew it.
At lifeguard training the next day, Brian and Jerica swung into motion again. If we thought we were in the frying pan the first day, we were in the fire that day. I don't think anyone left that second day, but there was no testing that day, all training. All Brian and Jerica, pushing us harder, all the way to our limits; making us look at our immaturity and literally be ashamed of it. And, making us realize how little knowledge we really had about the job. But, most of all, making us really realize the beauty of life.
But, successfulness in the training was not our only great success. What really made it so that our assigned groups worked hard was our friendship I mentioned before. When other groups were practicing, we could watch, but when that got boring, we were lined up on the side of the pool, our feet dangling in, laughing and talking and splashing each other and singing and, occasionally, pushing each other in. We were all like a family, even the renewal lifeguards were bonded with us fresh ones. Really, through everything, we would have been nothing; everyone would have failed and been fired if it hadn't been for our friendship and family bonding. We would be nothing without each other.
And then Jerica and Brian showed us all that video called Touched By a Drowning. It was a video that someone had caught on a home camera on their personal camera of an 8 year old boy who drowned and died because the lifeguards forgot everything and their minds went blank, because they were not properly trained, or they did not stay consistent and up to date with two to four training hours a month, which was our requirements. The lifeguards were American Red Cross Lifeguards, not Jeff Ellis Management or Ellis and Associates. Horror stricken, the room was so quiet, you could have heard a feather drop, we watched as the fear stricken lifeguards held the boy in the water, a big no-no, only opening an airway. By the time help reached them, the boy was gone.
Everyone in the room was stunned.
From that moment on, all the way to now, and on for the rest of my life, I realize even more than I did before, how precious each life is in the world; how magical each beating heart is. I could not even imagine what it would be like if a human being died because I did something wrong. All of us, every new and old lifeguard, had to know everything better than our own names.
People say that babies and little kids can drown in three inches of water. Truth is, anyone can drown in an inch of water. If a grownup passed out and landed face first in an inch of water, they would not be able to breath. They could be dead in less than 30 seconds, and I didn't just make that number up.
The last and final day came, after a night like the one before, only even crazier. It was our final trial day. All the new lifeguards were secretly nervous, trying to act calm. But, it was clear; as the end of the day drew closer and closer, everyone's nervousness started to come out. Everyone quizzed each other as much as possible and reviewed and practiced with all their extra time. The testing came and people's knees started to knock together. If we were in the frying pan the first day, the fire the next, Brian and Jerica were dropping us in the lava that last and final day that would determine our summers.
Everyone was assigned into groups of five, every group consisting of newbies and lifeguards renewing their licenses. We would have to go through a series of random saves and CPR routines. If we messed up twice, the whole group was fired. Even the renewals. I was terrified, because Sage and Jarod were in my group. Sage was also a newbie, since she was only a swim instructor before.
I had to do well; I had to be really good; for her, for me, for Jarod; and for everyone else in my group. I had to finally show those kids from when I went to those three years of private school after homeschooling, that I could really rise high; that they could not stomp on me forever. I had to live for the moment where I proved their comments towards me being a failure, wrong. I had to do it by doing well in the training; by never letting anyone down again. I had to do it by saving lives. I had to really be something that I never was before; a Jeff Ellis lifeguard.
I could not even imagine the shame I would have to endure if I failed.
I held my head in my hands. I had blown our first chance in one of the tests, and it was my fault. And, after doing again, we had messed up on the CPR. My group had failed twice, and it was my fault. My head swam and I could see everything around me start to spin. I knew I was going to pass out, but not before seeing that Sage was crying by the backboard. I waited for those words. We had failed. It was time to go home.
“You messed up. We should be sending you home right now. But, we know you can do it. We've seen you guys do way better than that. We know who you really are. You have one more chance.”
I stopped in my fainting. Had I seriously just heard those words? Yes! I had! WE HAD ONE MORE CHANCE! I wanted to run to Sage and tell her how sorry I was, how horrible I felt when I thought we had failed, but now I wanted to run and hug her and tell her how happy I was, and that, this was it; the final challenge of our lives.
“You need to make eye contact. That is extremely important,” Jerica said. I realized just then how we really lacked that. I finally realized in that moment, after all kinds of people telling me it for years, I realized just how extremely important it was and right they were.
“One more chance, Martina, one more chance,” Sage said to me and to the rest of the group. Our minds must have been so sharp and alert, we could have pressed two pin points together perfectly. One more chance; one more chance; one more chance. I had to be primary, the main rescuer, the hardest job. This was it. This was my chance to rise. I felt like my group was hanging by a thread over lava, and I was at the top, everyone else latched onto my ankles.
“We will do this together. Work together. MAKE EYE CONTACT.” Sage looked straight into each of our eyes and said this. The message sank as deep as there was into us. Something clicked in my mind, and I realized something in that moment that I had never felt or seen before. In all the years I tried to be a team with others; in all the years I tried to play sports; in all the years I had gone through friends; I had never really known what it was like to truly be on a real and true and faithful team. And, this, this was it. That real and true family I had never known before. There was no mane rescuer. We were all rescuers, and what had failed us before was the lack of the last click we needed to work together, and eye contact. At that moment, we were the closest family in the world.
As I jumped in the water for that victim, everything clicked perfectly in my mind. I did everything just about perfect. I called for help and Sage came in to help. We did the spontaneous breaths with the Seal Easies as we took our uncontias victim to the backboard. Sage and I looked at each other and we made perfect eye contact the whole way; our eyes so wide, I was surprised our eyeballs didn't roll right out of their sockets and fall to the bottom of the pool. I swore, in that moment, I could have read Sage's mind so well, I could have told her what she ate for dinner three years ago on the 4th of July. We were doing it. We would win. The world around us was still, and it seemed like every breath in the world was held and every eye was watching.
We stood up, stretching our muscles and exhaling. We had done it. We had passed the ultimate test. God knew I, no, WE could do it. Jerica and Brian were telling us how we could have done even better and giving tips and further direction, and we were all answering yes, but I think everyone was just plain relieved. We, or at least I was, in a half shock.
WE WERE WINNERS! There were still more tests to go, but, for that moment, we were gold.
It was time for the written test, 50 multiple choice questions. I was not nervous for this one. I had studied the book hard and for hours on end with Amanda. We had as long as we needed. No time limit at all. Of course, there was if you didn't finish in four hours. The whole test was really not hard if you payed attention. Mostly common sense questions about lifeguarding. But, one kid did fail it twice and was sent home. I honestly didn't see how he failed. He was really good in the water. He probably just could not take paper tests. It sounded just like a dyslexic person. I was honestly a little irked. It seemed like one of those school things where they judged what you could do by a piece of paper. But, I could not complain. We were taking a test on everything we had already actually used in real life, not some thing we read out of a text book. It was on things we had actually learned for real, except, of course, for real actual situations.
A bunch of other kids had been sent home that day, and I could see the gap in the group that they had made. I pulled myself together and concentrated hard on the test. We had to score an 80% or higher. No more than ten wrong. I worked hard for forty five minutes and spent ten minutes going over it. I turned it in. A few other kids had already turned it in and Jerica was correcting them and returning them. Brian was in a hallway conducting the private CPR testing.
When Jerica called me for my test. I practically wrung my own hands off. Jerica showed me my test but did not hand it to me. I had gotten ten wrong! “You barely passed, Martina,” She said. “You had test B, so take back the actual test and go over what you missed. Quiz yourself, because some of these were really obvious that you missed.”
I had passed, but I was honestly a little disappointed in myself. I knew I could have done better. I knew I should have been more careful. But then, I thought to myself, Martina, you passed. At this moment, that is what matters the most. And you don't even have to retake it.
Amanda took forever on her test. Jarod got 8 wrong on his, better than me. But, Amanda sat there, re-going-over-answers over and over again for two hours. When she finally turned it in, she ended up with 3 wrong. Very good!
There was only one last and final test; the solo CPR. I waited forever while Jerica and Brian watched one CPR demonstration after another. The other kids waited in the room for their turns. Jarod, Amanda, and I waited... and waited... we studied and goofed around... and waited. FINALLY it was Amanda's turn. She went with someone else since we were randomly selected in pairs.
In the end, it was just Jarod and I. We went for our CPR testing with Brian. Jarod was to start first, demonstrating on me. He started fine, but he suddenly sat back on the floor and put his head on his hand and squeezed his eyes shut. I sat up and turned around in surprise. It wasn't like our lips were even close to each other's. We used Eal Easies so that no germs were spread and more oxygen was passed into the victims body.
“Just, hold on,” Jarod said through clenched teeth. He was shaking all over and his face started turning funny colors. “Are you okay?” I asked. I looked over at Brian. I was seriously worried. I cared and still do care greatly for Jarod.
Brian looked totally cool. He just looked at Jarod. I said to Brian, “He's really nervous.”
“I know,” Brian replied, “Just give him a second.”
In less than a minute, Jarod was suddenly calmed down some and his face returned to a normal color, though I could sens his nervousness through the touch of his hands. Jarod messed up some, but he passed the adult and child CPR fine. When it came to baby, he totally messed up and had to redo it after I did my CPR testing on him. He passed fine the second time. I was surprised at how easy it really was. It would seem hard, but once you have been doing it for hours and hours on end. It's rather easy. I passed the adult, child, and infant was my best. Though, I did mess up once on the adult when I got confused on what things were called. Brian pretty much let any little quarks slide. He was tired and wanted to go home. The training had technically been over an hour and a half before. He practically tossed Jarod and I out the door, throwing our papers and testing sheets with us. I knew somehow, Jarod and I had gotten off the hook a little bit easer than sooner people. I knew that several people had failed the CPR.
My head was spinning as I walked out the door. I had done it! I had passed the lifeguard training! AMANDA IS A LIFEGUARD! JAROD IS A LIFEGUARD! I AM A LIFEGUARD!
Back in the multi-purpose room where we had done all the out of water training, Jerica had me fill out my official employee papers and sign them, then give her my Social Security number. I had to read a big terms and policies, ugh, but I didn't care. All that mattered at that moment was the joy and inner pride that I had passed everything well. It really came out when Jarod and I went to photo copy machine to copy our SSNs in a back room in the center where it was employees only. We had already signed our official papers making us employees. A security guy and another guy said to us, jokingly, “Hey! You can't be back here!” I simply replied, “Oh, yes we can. We are employees. Since, like, ten minutes ago.”
After that, it seemed like I was letting out a huge breath and finally relaxing. It seemed like I had been completely tense all weekend. But, for the time being, I could just breath.
I remember as Jarod and I were leaving, I ran to the bathroom. Amanda and almost everyone else had already left. While I was in there, Jarod waited outside. I heard him suddenly dropping the F bomb over and over really loud. I hurried and washed my hands, and ran out to see if he was okay. He explained to me how he had antecedently put his Mom's number on his employee forms, not his own. We both started bursting out laughing, and I don't even know why it was funny. We just let out all our joy. And he even made me more happy when he pulled a small corner of his test, ripped off, handed it to me, and said, “And, by the way. Here's my number.” We both felt the pride exploding in us. We are lifeguards. I wished Amanda hadn't left yet. I had her number and couldn't WAIT to call her as soon as I got home.
That weekend has transformed me. It has taken a certain part of me and hammered it out and then hammered it out again, and again, again, again. I have never really and truly learned so much in my life and loved every bit of it. I still can't quite pin what it is, that makes me love lifeguarding so much. But, I know, a big part of it is because I can finally do something, and do it well, and be recognized for it. I can finally rise higher than before.
Something remarkable about lifeguard training, now that I think of it, is you get to learn all sorts of new stuff, but then you crash right into actually using your new knowledge and applying your skills. That is why, in all the years of my schooling, I feel like I have learned almost nothing at all. I feel like, in that one weekend, I learned more than a school could ever teach me in a hundred years.
I had waited, and waited. I was waiting for the summer to come, but I was bursting and overflowing. I finally emailed Jerica, asking if I could start lifeguarding right away. I was so happy to receive an email back saying that it was no problem, when did I want to do my inservice hours? Here are the times and days. I went to inservice a few days later on Thursday and Sunday. It was just four more hours of training, only I wasn't tested or anything, just review. So, there was no tension. And, I got payed for it!
A few days after inservice, I was scheduled to shadow for two hours a few days later. I went to shadowing, and I got a real taste of the actual job. Training was teaching us what to do about distressed swimmers, etc, but shadowing taught me what to do when actually up on stand. I shadowed a boy named Ceaser, who is about as fat as a fence post and is really funny. We had handy little radios to communicate with. Ceaser had me doing the five minute strategy elephant scans. I kept on messing up the strategy reports through the radio when it was my turn, but I was doing it almost perfect by the end of the two hours. I was having a hard time saying the word strategy, for some reason, so it came out like stragy. Ceaser wouldn't let me sit in the stands, but had me walking the pools and constantly moving my head and eyes. If I even paused for a split second, he cracked his whip. He made me look back all the time as I scanned the pool with my eyes. Ceaser and numerous other managers, supervisors, and lifeguards told me that you could be scanning one side of the pool, then the other, and when you looked back a second later, there could be someone drowning.
My heart was almost thudding in my chest. I had completed all the requirements to start working. When one of the managers, Aaron, asked me if I had any questions, I asked him when I could start working. He said they could make me a schedule when my uniform arrived, but he could put me on for a substitute. I was a little crushed. It seemed as if he was blowing me off. But, he had to do what he had to do. Aaron seemed pretty cool.
I went home, excited, but disappointed that I didn't know when I would really start working. I went to my Teen Advisory Board meeting at the library that Saturday. I had to babysit that night for a family with a bunch of little kids. I was pretty busy. But, when I left the library, I saw I had a message from the aquatic center. I eagerly called them back, but they said that they had needed me, but they were good on lifeguards and they would call me if they needed me again. I was ready to drop everything and run. But, I didn't loose hope. I sill had and still have an entire summer ahead of me.
I waited some more, and I waited. It seemed like forever, but it was only the very next day that I got a call again. I eagerly answered the phone, so excited I had to work hard to control my voice. THEY FINALLY WANTED ME TO WORK! They had a free shift that very next day, AT 4:45 IN THE MORNING! I knew there was that shift, and I knew I had said in my interview that I was willing to take it. I was so excited anyways. I was willing to suddenly change my bad sleeping habits to fit my new life.
I really have to thank my Mom who got up that early too to take me. She even made me French Toast and coffee; and put my hair into a pony tail; a nice perfect one.
I didn't have my uniform yet, so I wore some black swim shorts and a white shirt with a dog holding an American flag in its mouth; the closest thing to a white shirt I had. I got up early and washed my hair. Mom put it in a ponytail for me and made the French toast. I put my things into a backpack. I arrived at the center exactly at 4:45 am. I banged on the glass to the lap pool like Aaron had told me to do, sense the building was closed. He came and let me in. I was the first one there. He was showing me how to set up for the day; putting out the chairs and rolling out the mats, when there was banging at the glass.
I went out through the employee room and let the other lifeguards in. I certainly met them really fast. Their names are Krystyne and Kyle. Krystyne is 24 and getting married in October. Kyle is 17 and, like me, home schools, and, almost like me who has eight, has six siblings.
Aaron, who I mentioned before, a tall African American guy with ripped muscles and a nice six pack, manager, practically breathed down my back the whole time. Apparently, my scanning was not good, though he didn't particularly say it that way. He gave me tips for making it faster and more efficient while being very comfortable. I worked hard to remember and perfect everything and not let my flaws crush me. Krystyne gave me tons of pointers and suggestion and little rules that were important. Everything ran in a steady pattern and I adjusted quickly to it. My arms started to know the tube and radio in my hands and my butt got used to carrying a butt pack.
My day ran by quickly, and before I knew it, I had to go home. I found myself not wanting to go. I wanted to stay longer and work harder. But, I knew I had an entire summer to look forward to.
I have been working for a little over a week now, and I have had more experiences in that time than my entire life; or it seems. I already had a lady get ticked at me and complain, and some other people telling me I do a really nice job. I still haven't had any saves yet or had to jump in for a dummy. I am still getting up at 3:50 in the morning, three to four times last week and starting this week. I am still a sub until I get my real official uniform, but it seems that a lot of shifts are open that early. I really love it. All of it. Working in the morning is actually quite relaxing and calm, except, of course, for the lady in the therapy pool that always complains about blah blah blah.
This particular day, I can't believe I am up at 10:30 at night still working on this. I was at work at 4:45 am sharp, and then I came home, and I had to go back to work AGAIN at two for another two hours. But, so what! I got extra money and I got to see a lady swimming laps while reading a book. That's certainly not something you see everyday! I went swimming just tonight, again,, for the third time today. I have found that my crawl is actually very good and swift; I just need to build more muscle. I have been using a technique my cousin told me about.
Lifeguarding is amazing and I think that it is the best thing that has ever happened to me. I really have to bow down and kiss my Mom's feet for getting me into swimming. And Sage too, for encouraging me to apply. But, it's really all my mom. She is an amazing Mother, running all her millions of kids all around creation and always right on time while dealing with a demanding husband. She is really a saint! I am the luckiest girl in the world with such a amazing Mom!
I encourage lifeguarding to everyone! Maybe you won't even make it through training, but I was so sure I wouldn't. You never really know until you have really tried. I thought I would never find my way, but this job has really opened a wide door for me. All those other staff and lifeguards are the most amazing group I have ever been part of. They have welcomed me with open arms. They are an amazing family. They make me turn my back on the idiots from when I went to school, and look forward; really step up and show them I am real. Every second of that training, or boot camp for lifeguards, as I call it, has really paid off already. Everything is worth it; every second, every penny, every bit of pressure.
I know my adrenalin will be going so fast when I make my first save, and I know only a small hint of the inner secret pride of saving a life. For now, I will continue to do my job as well and the best as Martina can possibly do it; and really and truly be the best I can ever be. And, most of all, above everything else; to save lives.
All I really have to say in the end is this; You will never really know what it is like to be a lifeguard, unless you, yourself, goes through Boot Camp For lifeguards.
--Martina, Jeff Ellis Lifeguard, summer 2012