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Lifeguarding Season II: 50 miles logged

Updated: Mar 13


The “off-season” for emergency response personnel in northwest Florida is November 1 – March 1. During the off-season, I logged 50 miles in the pool. Although I am no Diana Nyad—I was proud of my 50 miles. Those little moments add up, and there were many days I did not want to swim. I wanted to do nothing, but the endorphin release and relaxing shower after my swim kept me going.


Swimmers, I swear, are some of the happiest people on the planet.


Older ladies wearing thick-strapped, industrial-strength one-pieces with their faces covered in goggles, a swim cap, and bright red lipstick could be seen almost daily. Their strokes reveal their past experience: high elbows, steam-lined, full hip rotation, minimal kicking, and effortless side-mouth breathing. 


They’re always smiling, saying “hello” and shameless in the locker room. Younger girls change in the stalls, but the older ladies—they don’t care at all. They’re like, “yep, this is my 83-year-old wrinkly, strong body with sun damage—and I am proud of it.” 


A friend once said, “My goal in life is to have the confidence of the naked, old ladies in the locker room.” 


And that stuck with me. How fantastic! To honor the aging body in that way—aging, I’ve always thought, was such a privileged process. Not everyone gets the privilege of living a long life—and though these bodies ache and decay over time, we have a choice in how we treat our temporary temples on this earth.


Women who embraced their wrinkled skin and silver hair and didn’t try to hide their age were always inspiring to me. They exuded confidence, and it’s attractive. I wanted whatever they had—the confidence to be, to take up space, and to display who they were (wrinkles and all).


I was not a high school or collegiate swimmer, so I’ve learned how to improve my stroke and time from the other lifeguards. I thought it made more sense to swim with your hands entering right in front of your head, like the bow of a ship breaking through water. I should fashion myself as a missile, right? One point headed through the element of water. The lifeguards informed me that this is incorrect.


Instead, I am to enter the water straight out in front of my shoulder, arms should be on either side of the black line that I stare at on the bottom of the pool. Body twisting from the core, creating a soothing, rocking motion. Extend. Lengthen. Coast. Better form, less effort. 


I was kind of annoyed at first. I had no idea I was swimming so wrong.


One of the lifeguards had me swim with a PVC pipe between my hands to get the proper distance between my hands. It felt so unnatural.


He encouraged me, “Just keep practicing your form, I know it’s awkward at first.”

And he was right. I dropped 12 seconds off my 500-meter time from the start of the off-season to the end. It was a big drop for me!


Going into the second year of lifeguarding in my thirties—while teaching yoga and ghostwriting memoirs, is a mixture of activities that brings me life. It is exhausting at times but fulfilling.


I hadn’t really processed how being a lifeguard would be taken in by others. Where I come from, lifeguarding is pretty much strictly restricted to YMCA pools. Miles and miles of coastline with crashing waves and rip currents are not a thing in Minnesota.


I realized that others might think it’s silly. While on a call last week, I tried to make light of a conversation that was about to get quite intense with a few business partners, so I made a joke about myself. That’s what I do—just throw myself into the middle so others can laugh and not take life so seriously. 


During check-ins, I said, “My day was good—thanks for asking. I did get a little sunburned, but it’s all good. I am happy to be here working on the beach.”


A man on the call commented, “Do they not teach you how to put sunscreen on in lifeguarding school?”


Hm.


Didn’t land too well with me. 


And I realized at that moment how allowing myself to be the joke makes me the joke—I ended up getting off that call because of the intense disrespect that ensued shortly after—I had to find my voice and speak up. There were no more excuses to be made. I had to step off the call to remove myself from being treated that way—jokingly or not.


Standing up for myself, as an Enneagram 9, is a challenge. I’d rather the other alphas in the room speak up for me—and they do. They snarl and bare their teeth and aren’t afraid to jump right in there. But it has been empowering for me, a lifeguard, yoga instructor, and ghostwriter—in my thirties—in a same-sex relationship, to maintain my peace and freedom to be me. No matter what others may comment or joke.


And I get to continue living just like those ladies with red lipstick and shameless naked bodies walking in the locker room. I have nothing to hide, everything to be proud of.




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