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Rock Bridge alumn Isaac Simms watches his zone at the Activity and Recreation Center (ARC) Sept. 17 Photo by Will Napier

Lifeguards make a splash through winter

With the onset of fall, many students have finished their summer jobs or are balancing both school and work.  Some jobs carry over into the school year, one job in particular, lifeguarding, may stand out less than other school year jobs because it is considered seasonal.  In addition, most people may see it as a typical first job, held only during the summer to tan and watch the water.  What some might not know is that lifeguards with Columbia Parks and Recreation (Parks and Rec) go through a three-day course before they start working and weekly training sessions and impromptu skill checks on lifesaving and rescues. After summer is over, guards have the opportunity to apply for the fall and winter seasons.  

During the fall and winter seasons, only Hickman and the Activity and Recreation Center (ARC) are opened, and guards apply for the days they are available to work.  Although guards still watch for drownings and medical emergencies, the biggest change is no heat, bugs or sunburns. Junior Madison Polniak, a first-year lifeguard, has applied for the fall and winter seasons.   

“I would recommend guarding to other high school students because lifeguarding is very good training for future jobs,” Polniak said. “Shifts are usually very flexible, and you get to work with people who like to have fun, rather then just keep to themselves all the time.”

Polniak worked at Little Mates Cove most days during the summer with ARC shifts mixed in and is appreciative of the new schedule.  Little Mates Cove is the pirate-themed children’s water park run by Parks and Rec.

“[My schedule] was pretty hectic,” Polniak said.  “But now I only work two times a week, and it’s nice and stable.”

Polniak now works weekend shifts at the ARC from 8:30 a.m. – 3:00 p.m. and says it’s easy to balance school and work as she gets multiple 30 minute breaks throughout the day to do homework.  When it comes to guarding, lifeguards are on stand for anywhere between 30 minutes to two hours with a thirty minute downtime mixed in. Managers make rotation charts so guards are on each stand for only thirty minutes, and guards are expected to check bathrooms, clean the deck and be ready to respond to an emergency quickly.  Once chores, such as picking up deck trash or cleaning the stainless-steel water fountain are complete, guards are allowed to check their phones and do homework in the guard room.

Senior Giuliana Richwood is a second year guard and said her favorite part about guarding is the energy.

“Overall I love being around little kids and getting to connect with them on a level other than just lifeguard to patron,” Richwood said.  “[It] is just as rewarding as having a rescue itself.”

Richwood has had more than five rescues over the course of her employment.  Even with weekly training and impromptu tests, rescues can still come as a surprise.

“It usually leaves you really shaken and you have a lot of adrenaline,” Richwood said.  “I suppose it’s just as scary for you as it is for the person being saved in a way, because you truly do have another person’s life in your hands.”

Richwood has worked at Little Mates Cove, the ARC and Hickman since June 2017 and despite making sacrifices in her social life in order to balance school and work, she wouldn’t trade the job.  When the transfer from summer facilities to the ARC and Hickman commences, Parks and Rec lose most of their guards because of school, allowing for the returning guards to get closer over the fall and winter seasons.  

“You’ll have your differences,” Richwood said.  “The drama, the good times and bad, but in the longterm you know that everyone will have your back when you need it.”

Aquatics Supervisor Janel Twehous has worked in aquatics for 24 years and deals with payroll, scheduling and hiring year round.  Twehous says the operations at both indoor pools change drastically. The ARC no longer opens for Rec Swim at 12:00 p.m. Monday through Friday.  Rec Swim is held only Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 5:00-9:00 p.m. As for the Hickman Pool, the facility is a jointly operated pool with Parks and Rec, operating daily during the summer.  During the school year however, CPS operates the pool Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., allowing Parks and Rec to operate after that time and over the weekends.

During the summer, Parks and Rec has approximately 150 staff members, but during the school year that number is cut in half.  Those numbers include management, guards, swim instructors, water fitness instructors and concession workers. The requirements to be hired in the fall and winter are the same as over the summer.  

“We use StarGuard, which is a nationally known aquatics program who will reciprocate other nationally known lifeguard training programs,” Twehous said.  “So an applicant can come to us with American Red Cross training – we will interview them, see if they fit in our program, hire them and then cross train them to meet our program requirements.”  

Parks and Rec continues hiring through the fall and winter seasons with competition from the Mizzou Rec Center.  Twehous says management in aquatics appreciate their staff, shown through the occasional treat.

“Today I brought the morning guards some lemon loaf cake bread,” Twehous said.  “We also give staff stuff every holiday just to show our appreciation.”

For many first year guards such as Polniak, the fall and winter seasons are the first time they will balance both work and school.  With plans to enjoy her first year with a bank account, as well as saving up to buy a car, Polniak is prepared for the challenge.

“I’m excited for fall and winter because I get to increase my skills more with CPR and rescue breathing,” Polniak said.  “What makes the work enjoyable is being able to be around people that generally like each other and like to spend time together while still being able to do a good job in the working aspect.”

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