Swimming to save lives

Lifeguard certification course teaches skills to save lives

November 28, 2014


photo taken by Elise Mariano

Paul Terzian in the pool with a rescue tube.

“This course will prepare students to be professional lifeguards, provide patron supervision, understand emergency preparation, perform important rescue skills, and provide First Aid,”  says the course overview for the American Red Cross lifeguard certification at the Rose Bowl Aquatics Center (RBAC) in Pasadena. Lifeguards are an important part of every pool. They do the obvious — guard the lives of patrons.

I love swimming. I love being by the water. My love for swimming and helping people are the main factors that sparked my interest in becoming lifeguard certified. Although being in the water and swimming my butt off is nothing new to me, swimming my butt off while towing a person to safety was something I’ve never done before.

Paul Terzian on duty at the YMCA.
photo taken by Elise Mariano
Paul Terzian on duty at the YMCA.

Not only is swimming a good way to exercise your whole body, it can also save your life. Drowning is one of the top ten leading causes in the United States. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), an average of ten people die from unintentional drowning every day. According to the CDC, two of the main factors that contribute to drowning are lack of swimming ability and lack of close supervision while swimming. There is a large percentage of people that can not swim. If more people knew how to swim, fewer drownings may occur.

It was my mom who initially wanted to enroll me into the lifeguarding course. I was reluctant to let her do it because I thought the classes would take up too much of my time, or I thought that was just not cut out for it. Eventually, I started missing being in the pool so I thought to myself, “I like helping people and I love swimming, so why not put both of those interests to work and try lifeguarding?”

I read a little about the course and found out about the prerequisite test that one must pass before he or she is admitted into the class. You have to be 15 years of age or older and must show that you are pretty good in the water. To prove the latter, you have to swim 300 yards continuously, demonstrating your skill in two strokes — front crawl (freestyle) and breaststroke. In addition, participants must tread water continuously for two minutes without using their hands.

Upon reading about that part of the prerequisite test, I was still feeling pretty confident that I would pass. However, the last part of the test kind of scared me. I would have to swim 20 yards out and surface dive about seven feet to retrieve a ten pound brick from the bottom of the pool. After I got the brick, I would have to swim 20 yards back to the wall on my back with the brick on my chest while keeping my head out of the water so I could breathe — all under two minutes.

On the first day of the tryouts in September I was a little nervous, but I showed up to the pool ready to pass the prerequisites. I successfully swam the 300, treaded for two minutes using only my legs, and I retrieved the 10-lb. brick without even breaking a sweat. I was admitted into the the class that same day, along with another young woman. I was on my way to becoming a certified lifeguard.

Under the instruction of Karen Powers and Mike Dowell, six of us aspiring lifeguards met four days a week, nine hours on Sundays, and three hours every Monday, Wednesday and Friday for two and a half weeks. During that time, I improved my swimming and learned lifeguarding skills. Dowell has been teaching the lifeguarding course for over 30 years, and he has seen it change many times. In an e-mail interview, he stated that as the course has changed over time “the skills improve in effective rescues and improved safety for both rescuer and victim.”

Under the instruction of Karen Powers and Mike Dowell, six of us aspiring lifeguards met four days a week, nine hours on Sundays, and three hours every Monday, Wednesday and Friday for two and a half weeks.”

— Elise Mariano

Each day, we spent some time in the classroom and some time in the water. The RBAC has rooms on the second floor of the main building that are used for this course. Classroom time consisted of going over first aid, CPR and emergency preparedness. We would also discuss what we would practice in the pool.

The Red Cross lifeguard course offers a Lifeguard Manual, which we studied. The course also included videos, which demonstrated essential skills. Although the videos were pretty cliche and the acting was bad, they contained great information and tips. One memorable video featured a little boy who pretended to have an asthma attack while a lifeguard helped him. The little boy was trying his best to look distressed, but it just made me giggle because I could tell right away that it wasn’t real.

For the first few meetings, we focused mainly on first aid and CPR. Since I was in the Junior Lifeguard course the year before, none of the skills were new to me. When Powers and Dowell brought out the CPR dummies, last summer’s memories came back to me. I remembered the feeling of the rubber dummy’s chest on my hands, and I remembered the sounds of its chest clicking as I did chest compressions.

A backboard used for spinal injuries by the pool.
photo taken by Elise Mariano
A backboard used for spinal injuries by the pool.

One day while we were CPR training, Dowell played “Stayin’ Alive” by the Bee Gees. The beat of the song went perfectly with the rhythm of the chest compression. We spent a few minutes with our hands on the dummies, going pressing down, waiting for the chest to recoil, and pressing down again as voices of the Gibb brothers filled the room.

Since all of this was pretty familiar with me, I would smile when Dowell would say something he said the year before. In the water for those first few meetings, we mostly worked on swimming techniques and how to jump into the pool. The biggest difference between the two courses was the prerequisite test as well as the written test and skills test I took at the end of the lifeguard certification course.

Lifeguarding is a popular part time job for teens. Paul Terzian, who is currently a lifeguard at the Crescenta/Cañada YMCA, became interested in lifeguarding for similar reasons to my own: to get a job and for the love of swimming. He got certified in March at the same YMCA where he works. “My favorite part of being a lifeguard is being around the water all the time and I like knowing that I’m helping to keep people safe,” Terzian said.

For Dowell, the most rewarding parts of the class is the ability for him/her to give back to the community and the gain in improvement in swimming. Dowell also said that others who do not take the class can indirectly benefit through someone who has taken the class when the lifeguard helps keep a family member or a friend safe around the water.

My favorite parts about the the course were being in the water almost every day and learning first aid. I loved being in the water for obvious reasons (and it was also during the time in September when it was extremely hot all the time), but I liked learning first aid because I like knowing that I can be useful in emergency situations so I can help people. Terzian especially enjoyed watching the videos when he took the class. He too found himself giggling when they reenacted lifeguarding situations. “They were really funny because the acting was so bad,” he said.

In the water, we practiced rescues on each other. All six of us ended up getting pretty close, both physically and in emotional ways. When we would say, “Try not to kill me,” we meant it jokingly and seriously. We were partnered up and we’d have to successfully “rescue” each other.

We also made a connection with both Dowell and Powers. We weren’t shy around them, and it was easy to joke around with them (but when it had to be serious, they got pretty serious). Dowell says his favorite part about teaching the course is when a student comes back to tell him of their success in a rescue or of a safe swim season.

When it came the time to take the two written tests and the skills tests, I was feeling pretty conflicted. I was confident about the written tests, but I was feeling a little uneasy about the skills tests. My deep water rescues were still pretty crappy, and I felt like I wasn’t going to pass. Even though I was 70% sure that I failed the skills test, I ended up passing. Nervousness seems to be a universal feeling to those who have to take the skills test. Terzian recalls being just as nervous. “I just took a deep breath and did what I had to do,” he said. That breath was finally released when he found out that he passed.

Passing this course is one of my biggest (and favorite) accomplishments. Not only do I have the opportunity to help people and save lives, but I will also be by the water a lot once I get a job as a lifeguard.

Clark Chronicle • Copyright 2023 • FLEX WordPress Theme by SNOLog in

Comments (0)

All Clark Chronicle Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.