Student lifeguards get a glimpse beyond the zinc oxide

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Cat Levine, Executive Editor
@catcourant

This past summer, a few students at NCHS ditched their desks in exchange for the pool. Lifeguarding at country clubs and local pools is a popular option for many high schoolers seeking employment. The state requirement for all pools is that an applicant become Red Cross certified by taking a training course. Due to the rapid changes in modern medicine, recertification is necessary every two years. Besides learning pre-EMT and medical skills, lifeguarding is a popular experience for students to take responsibility for protecting club patrons and tending to the facilities.

Senior Eliza Farley, who became a Red Cross certified lifeguard this past June, had to make time in her busy schedule for the week long five hours a day training session. “It was difficult to find time for homework when I was at training 5-10pm after having practice, but it was definitely worth it,” she said. “There was an even distribution of land and water training, but the water training was surprisingly difficult. The maneuvers we had to learn were not intuitive and were highly specific, so they took a lot of practice.”

Besides CPR and guard skills, senior Spencer Handler learned communication techniques to work effectively with her co-workers, children, and members of the Lake Club. “To be a lifeguard means to also be a babysitter, a maintenance person, and a friend.  It is a tough position to be in when a child breaks a rule because you don’t want to be known as ‘the mean lifeguard,’ but you also want to please your boss,” she said. “Most parents will just drop their children off for the day at the club, so the responsibility really falls into your hands.”

Senior Eva Pace, who also lifeguarded this past summer at the Lake Club, learned that the importance of her job is not necessarily caring for accidents, but enforcing the rules and preventing them from being broken. “A lot of being a lifeguard is less about the lifeguarding itself and more of being a positive influence for the children and adults that attend the club you work at,” she said. “You want the adults to be confident in the safety of their children and to be an authority to the kids, however you also need to make sure that they listen, respect, and like you as a person off duty.”

At the Millbrook Country Club, Eliza recognized the responsibility she was entrusted with to ensure the safety of the pool members and care for the facility. “To be a lifeguard is to be attentive and make sure that all patrons are safe. Even though most of the time everybody is safe, Lifeguards are required to always be ready for something to happen,” she said. “Being a lifeguard also requires a lot of maintenance work for the pool and making sure everything is up to code.”

Although Spencer has never personally had to jump into the pool, she witnessed and heard stories from her co-workers of their close encounters. “Last year during a Grassroots swim event, my co-worker had to jump in fully clothed and with his shoes on in order to save a boy that couldn’t properly swim.  Since that incident we have required a swim test that that group has to pass to be in the deep end,” she said.  “We also had a child do a backflip off of the diving board and on the way down he hit his forehead, face, chin, and chest on the board.  The injuries were serious enough that we had to bleach the entire pool deck, as well as evacuate the deep end of the pool for the rest of the day. It took about five of us to control the blood flow until his parents arrived to take him to the ER.”

The tragic incident at Chelsea Piers was a helpful reminder to Spencer to always be attentive and keep an eye out for potential dangers.
After the incident at Chelsea Piers, all the lifeguards at the Lake Club really upped their game and we now open a third chair whenever we think the two other people sitting need even a little bit of assistance,” she said. “I have made sure that I am more attentive and active while on the chair because if something happens on my watch, I would want the outcome to be as efficient and positive as possible, and the only way that happens is if we have all of our guards on top of their game at all times.”

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Cat Levine is a senior at New Canaan High School and Executive Editor for the Courant.

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