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Being a lifeguard isn’t all about getting a perfect tan

Lifeguards have to keep their wits about them during a day at the pool

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Part of the joy each summer for Lidgerwood children is to spend hot days at the pool.

There they can splash, play Pom-Pom, which is a water-based game of tag, and stay cool when temperatures soar into the 90s.

“On a day like today, you want to be in the water,” said Brenda Oster of Lidgerwood Tuesday afternoon as she watched over two nephews and a niece, who were in town visiting.

She was another set of eyes, along with lifeguards Caitlyn Illies and Anna Heley. Oster said she feels more comfortable knowing there are trained lifeguards on duty at the pool. She kept an eye on her nephews and niece, and allowed the lifeguards to enforce the pool rules.

The perfect first job

Illies, 19, has been a lifeguard at Lidgerwood Pool since she was 15 years old. It was her first job, something she discovered is a perfect start to a working career as being a lifeguard teaches things like time management and responsibility.

“For the next four hours, these kids are my responsibility,” she said, keeping an eye on the more than 20 youngsters enjoying the community pool at the time. Sometimes all it takes is for her to give over-active youngsters “the look,” while others need a quick lecture to get back into line.

Lifeguards must maintain focus at all times because it is easy to lose sight of a swimmer in the flurry of waving arms and legs. Illies and Heley were constantly scanning the pool to make sure everyone was safe while they were on duty as lifeguards, both four-year veterans.

Because Lidgerwood is a smaller community, Illies typically sees the same 15-20 children coming to the pool each day, she said. She gets to know them and their swimming skills, making it easier to manage them. She knows who can swim in the deep end, and who needs a little more assistance by wearing a life jacket if they want to venture into deeper water.

Of course that doesn’t mean these same children won’t push themselves beyond their skills, but it usually takes a stern warning from Illies and the other lifeguards to ensure their compliance.

“When they push their limits, you are like, ‘uh, uh. Back up, you’re not supposed to be doing that,” she said. “I’ve learned that although you can grow close to the kids, you still have to get harsh with them. If you’re not using a strict voice, they will do whatever they want.”

The best part of her job is developing relationships with the children, she said, almost akin to her feeling like an older sibling. Working with children has brought Illies back to Lidgerwood Pool during her summer breaks from Minnesota State University Moorhead, where she is taking advertising and marketing.

Lifeguard certification

There are six lifeguards at Lidgerwood Pool. All are certified after going through three-day training at North Dakota State College of Science that includes CPR, saving techniques, how to deal with spinal injuries or non-spinal injuries at the pool.

This certification and training provides for a separation of duties from pool manager Aaron Bohnenstingl, who is the pool manager, but not a lifeguard. He does the pool upkeep and maintenance, while the lifeguards are responsible for swimmer safety, he said.

Having trained lifeguards on duty keeps the swimmers safe, he said. They are among the most vital components at the pool.

There are many facets to the daily work as lifeguards have a lot of children of varying ages and abilities to watch over during the typical day at Lidgerwood Pool. There is a kiddie pool and shallow end for younger and less experienced swimmers. The pool also has 5-foot and 12-foot ends that contain a high dive and regular diving board.

Children constantly dove into the pool Tuesday afternoon while playing Pom-Pom — just because it was fun.

There is a lot going on during the course of a typical day.

So far, Illies said she hasn’t had to do a water rescue. That doesn’t mean there aren’t any close calls as children sometimes jump on one another in the pool. Another swimmer dove in from the 12-foot mark, but veered into 5 feet of water and hit his head on the upward slope. Others have skinned their knees after slipping on the deck because they weren’t following the rules and tripped or slid.

“We tell them over and over and over and over to not run. The deck has a lot of water on it and can get slippery. There’s a reason why we are constantly telling kids to walk,” Illies said, moments after Bohnenstingl reminded one boy to quit running. Illies shook her head. “We are constantly reminding the kids to walk.”

There are risks in being a lifeguard

Being a lifeguard seems like an easy job. Lifeguards go to the pool every day, tan and essentially are paid to sit and watch the swimmers.

Illies doesn’t disagree and said this is a great job for these very same reasons. She’s a “heat baby” who loves the sunshine, but the heat also poses risks to lifeguards.

Tuesday afternoon was multiple days in the heat and sunshine for Illies, so she felt faint that afternoon. She said it’s easy for a lifeguard to suffer from heatstroke. While they are working hard to protect others, they can forget to take care of themselves, she said.

Tuesday Illies didn’t drink as much water or eat on her breaks, so almost fainted. She worried about this because it meant she wasn’t at 100 percent when watching over swimmers at the pool that day, she said. By the middle of the afternoon she sat in the shade to stay cool while maintaining her constant vigil of the swimmers.

The new chairs at the pool have umbrellas to keep the sun from beating down on the lifeguards, which does help, she said. But hot is still hot.

“You’re just so busy, and heatstroke comes on quickly, which is why we stress so much about eating, drinking water and getting in to do pool checks to cool off during breaks,” Illies said.

Karen Speidel is the News-Monitor Media Managing Editor

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