COLUMBUS (WCMH) — They perch above the splashing, squealing children; the swimmer rhythmically cutting through the water with stroke after stroke; and the lounging group of friends talking about this or that as they cling to the side of the pool trying to beat the heat of a summer’s day; they are lifeguards.
It may not seem like they are doing much. Some barely move with their expressionless faces and eyes hidden behind dark or reflective sunglasses. Yet, those eyes are constantly scanning, searching, focusing on each body in the section of the pool they’re responsible for.
They scrutinize the swimmer, evaluate them, and judge their abilities. It is not malicious, anything but. It is part of an important function of how they protect those having fun below them.
Over the next 10 seconds, the lifeguard will scan their section of the pool; its surface; below the surface; the pool floor; looking for problems, or swimmers in distress. When the 10 seconds is up, the scan starts again from the beginning.
As more and more people enter the pool, the amount of time the lifeguard can spend on each swimmer reduces, it’s simple math. But ask any lifeguard and they’ll tell you their job is anything but simple. It is, in fact, a very stressful job; one most take very seriously because the consequences of a lack of vigilance can be profoundly tragic.
Frequent breaks to refresh themselves, hydrate, and apply more sunscreen allow them to get through what can be a pretty tough gig, given the circumstances of being at a pool, on a beautiful day.
The majority of those that fill this critical role every summer are young men and women, still in high school or perhaps in college, looking to earn a few extra bucks over the summer.
And when something terrible does happen, when someone is hurt or dies, lifeguards across the community are affected by it. It weighs on them, reminds them that it only takes a moment to lose someone. And it instills a renewed commitment within themselves that they will not allow such a tragedy to happen at their pool.
Despite their best efforts, however, we often do not help the lifeguard’s cause. Posted rules are ignored, as people run from place to place on slick surfaces, or dive into parts of pools they shouldn’t. Children swim alone and unsupervised by the adult that brought them; who is too busy reading that magazine, or locked into their smart phone, to notice if something is amiss.
Yes, lifeguards get to spend a summer by the pool, soaking in the rays, but not without sacrifice. And even though their stoic visage may make them seem unapproachable, they are quite friendly and happy to help.
Such is the life of lifeguard.
According to the American Red Cross, nearly two-thirds of us are willing to swim unsupervised by a lifeguard, and that an estimated 97 percent of people cannot tell when a swimmer is in distress.
They have created an app for smart phones to help families with small children be safer while in or around water.
The app is free and provides safety tips, quizzes, and instructions for what to do in the case of an emergency. It also has a section dedicated to tracking the swimming skills of 4, 5, and 6-year-olds.
Perhaps the most important tip for families, according to a spokesperson for the organization Jordan Tetting, is to teach children from a young age to seek permission to go toward any bodies of water.
Another tip is to secure any bodies of water, be they pools, ponds, or otherwise, on your property with fencing if you can.
The Red Cross swim app can be found in your smart phone’s app store, and is free to install.