Summer after freshman year of college my high school friends and I decided to rent a house at the ocean for the summer. We needed to find jobs. Many of my friends found work in restaurants. I was a bit reluctant to this. I knew I did not like working in the restaurant industry. I didn't like late night shifts or being tired in the morning. I wanted to be in bed by 10PM and wake up and workout.
One day one of my guy friends brought by their friend from college who worked as an ocean lifeguard during the summer months.
"You're athletic, you can do it." he said.
I told him I wasn't a great swimmer. I have never really swam any distance in the ocean, just played in the waves.
We jumped in the pool and I showed him a few strokes.
"Yeah, that's fine!" he said.
I showed up at the try-out not knowing what to expect. The first test was a one mile beach run. Coming out of lacrosse season I blazed through that. The next test was a 200m soft sand sprint. I did even better on that test. But, the third test was an ocean distance swim.
The whole time I was just praying to God they wouldn't have to come out and save me. I wasn't sure if I was swimming or just floating my way to the finish. Needless to say, I was the last one in.
Surprisingly, we all got hired, even me who nearly drowned.
They told me I had one month to work on my swimming, and I better do it.
I would sneak into hotels all around the Delaware beaches and Ocean City, Maryland to swim in pools and practice since the ocean was still rather cold and I just wasn't ready for ocean swimming yet even though that was going to be a big part of my job.
When we finally started official training on the beach my Captain or the lieutenants would drive down my stand on the four wheeler and pull me off the stand for extra practice. We would practice sprinting out to the water with the buoy and getting through the surf as quickly as possible. I was small and the buoy kept pulling me backwards with every wave that came along. My captain taught me how to dive down deep and dig my hands into the sand, push up and continue to dolphin dive through the surf.
Every morning we had beach workouts and I dreaded the swimming portion- the in and outs, swimming towers, and anything that had to do with putting my head underwater, but eventually I did learn to swim and I became a pretty good lifeguard, too. I rescued numerous kids and adults over the years, but I'll never forget one rescue my rookie year.
I was sitting solo. It was a cloudy morning, there weren't many people on the beach. I only had a few people in the water. All of a sudden I hear a woman scream at the top of her lungs. Without even thinking I stripped off my sweats, grabbed my buoy, and jumped off the stand to get out to the victim. Her husband had been body surfing. Apparently he hit his head on the shelf.
He was unconscious when I grabbed him. I put him in the Hawaiian sling, a standard procedure if you suspect head injury where you wrap your arms under their armpits and place your hands over their ears to stabilize their head. As I swimming him into shore he became conscious and shouted, "I can't feel my legs! I can't feel my legs!"
It felt like I froze, even though I kept swimming in. Back up came and supported his legs. His torso laid against my whole body as we carried him in and called for an ambulance.
Two weeks later while hanging out in the lifeguard shack before work my captain read us a letter from his family thanking us for saving his life. The man ended up breaking his neck, but gratefully he did not suffer from a spinal cord injury and was not paralyzed.
When I go back to visit, people on that street who were there that morning still talk about that event. It makes me so grateful I didn't give up when I thought I couldn't swim.