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Mercy of Steel (2)

Not over a week ago, I finished writing about the lifeguard training and my first experiences of actually being on stand. I have worked many days now. I still have not gotten my uniform, but I have a spare lifeguard shirt that I am borrowing that is ten years to big. I have been working the 4:45 am shift for days on end. Amanda and Jarod are not starting work until the water parks open in about a week.

I want to write this to tell you of another huge experience I had, not a save, but something else. I was at work at 4:45 in the morning, as usual, and Robbey, one of the lifeguards, asked me to work for him that very night. He tolled me he was sorry it was last second but he really needed a sub at the last second. I tolled him yes.

I came home after my morning shift and went back to bed for a few hours. I woke again and was back at the pool at three pm. It was just this past Friday night and the water park area was open, slides and all, to everyone. And IT WAS CROWDED! I mean crowded with a million explanation marks. There was the regaler Friday night buzz and then overflowed birthday parties on top. Kids were everywhere. Parents were in the corners talking; their kids running wild. They were everywhere, standing on their heads, dunking each other, playing dead, screaming, splashing, yelling, pushing, running, misusing the equipment... And scariest of all, body surfing and chicken fighting.

It was the most insane evening of my life! So far. The kids broke every rule imaginable every two seconds. I learned three things real quick; how to blow my whistle really loud, and to yell at them, and to give a look of steel to anyone breaking the rules. I rose my voice to my maximum to get over the roar of the water and the slides and fountains and screaming kids. My head was whipping around, keeping both my eyes and all of my mind concentrated so hard, I probably lost ten pounds that night. My whistle never left my lips except for when I was shouting, of course.

If I thought I was being stern, I was being soft compared to Krystyne across from me. She was whistling and shouting and screaming right back at the kids. Her face was red and her mind was planted on two things, rule enforcement and control. I was even tolled by some supervisors and a manager said something to the accord that I was being too easy on everyone. “You see something you aren't comfortable with, blow your whistle at them. Why do you think we have these things?”

Something clicked in my brain. I thought to myself, give those kids no mercy! But I thought again, no, I am giving them plenty of mercy by being here and making sure they stay alive and don't heart themselves and break the equipment so they have to pay for it. Yes, I am giving them plenty of mercy, I'm just giving them a different kind. I am giving them Mercy of Steel.

I had to rotate to the other side of the leisure pool then. Carly, another lifeguard, scanned in and I had just scanned out, using two fingers and my arm to guide my head across every bit of the pool. I was going to sign out, when I suddenly heard that sound I knew would make my heart go in my mouth; one long whistle blast. I spun around and saw Carly already in the water, a little girl latched onto her tube. I thought my heart would pound out of my chest as I realized that, if it had been a few seconds earlier, I would have been the one going in.

Carly just hopped out of the pool like that was normal. Isela the manager came running to take the kid's information down for a rescue report. Someone once said it really was normal, or someone said that. There was about two to three saves a week with the little kids.

I am writing this paragraph three months later. My experience has gone way beyond this. And, yes, we have saves constantly everywhere. Three of them are mine.

That was last Friday that that happened and now it is almost a week later. I have not worked as much this week, but I got my inservice training hours done, and we are payed for that, at least before the summer begins. I worked again this morning, the 4:45 am shift. I have worked that shift many times, and I have learned something about it. First thing is first. There is a coffee pot in the back employ room and if there isn't coffee in it, I make some, so I can keep myself caffeined up. VERY HELPFUL!

There is another part to working that shift. We always have to be ready and scanning our areas, paying attention to every detail and spotting where the swimmers are in the water, if there isn't too many. But once you have that nailed down, there is a certain amount of fuzziness you can let your thoughts go to to think about anything. It may look like lifeguards just sit there and get bored, but really, it is a very responsible concentrated job that will always have our gears turning; and we get a lot of thinking done.

I am writing this sentence three months later at the end of the summer, and I see now that I let my mind get way too fuzzy.

Us lifeguards, we work hard to do our job as perfectly as possible, but there is even another side to it, another side that is another whole job in itself. We have to be steel with the little kids swarming everywhere like ants. We have to give them our meanest looks to let them know who is boss. But, I learned something even more last night. I was working in the water park area, but there were not that many kids. For some reason, or maybe it is always like that, a lot of us lifeguards have an addiction to eating ice from the snack bar. We can eat it just like drinking water and still keep our eyes and mind totally focused on the real task. I had just wanted a cup of water, but ended up chewing up all the ice after the water was finished. When Stephani the supervisor or Aaron the manager asked if we needed anything, I would tell them, “I need more ice over here.” Or I'd just ask through the radio without waiting to be asked, “Can I have more ice? I need more.”

All the other girl lifeguards were doing to same thing. There was one point, when I was working the top of the slides, where someone asked for more ice. Then Elizabeth asked for it right after, and I was actually out of ice too, so I said right after, “Aaron, can I please have some more ice?” I waited a second and said in a serious voice, for kicks, “No, I seriously need some ice up here.” I was going to make someone take a trek up the stairs to reach me.

At another point, I was on comp two, a stand at the lap pool, and I got really cold, after about my third cup of ice. I still don't have my lifeguard hoodie, so I radioed in to Aaron. “Aaron, do you have any extra sweatshirts? I'm, like, freezing over here.”

Aaron said, a little in that 'duh' voice, “Well, maybe you should stop eating ice?”

“I can't,” I said back.

“Then, maybe get down and walk around your area?”

“I can't eat ice and walk and watch my zone. It'd too hard. I have a hard time double tasking.”

There was a pause where I knew Aaron was rolling his eyes. I could see the other lifeguards laughing out of the corner of my eyes. Aaron radioed back, “Okay, I'll be over in a minute.”

“Thank you so much, Aaron,” I said, in an overly sweet voice. I knew two things from that point, I love Aaron, just like everyone else does, and lifeguarding is really fun, but sometimes it's REALLY fun. We can have so much fun, while still keeping our ten-twenties and watching our water with our full attention. In that moment I was talking to Aaron, if I saw a drowning person, I would have known it, because I still gave all my mind to the water.

I am not sure if Aaron was the least bit ticked at us. I really think he was thinking, “Typical demanding girls!” He was laughing about it after words and I called us “Baaad,” and he said, “Um, yah!”

I ended up eating five cups of ice in the end.

Being steel and being laughter. I love that feeling of being able to really laugh over something. Those other lifeguards really make me part of the family. They crack me up and I know when they are dead serious and they know when I am dead serious. I really think it is that special connection we have; that special click in out minds to understand one another. And that is a huge vital importance to lifeguarding. Remember the eye contact with Sage and my training group? Work together and make eye contact. If you make your mind almost one with the others, that is true team work. In whatever situation a lifeguard is in, every second from the minute we walk into work that day, we are all teamwork itself. Really, if you ask me, teamwork is the most important thing of any lifeguard working for any lifeguard company. It may sound all cheesy, but, like I said before, you will never really know what I mean unless you become a lifeguard yourself.

--Martina, Lifeguard, summer 2012





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