66-year-old Ohio grandmother becomes a lifeguard to combat shortage
[July 10, 2023: Staff Writer, The Brighter Side of News]
Although Rodgers had trained to be a lifeguard in the 1960s, she said her recent lifeguard training was completely different and she had to learn new skills, such as CPR and how to use an AED. (CREDIT: Gail Rodgers)
When Gail Rodgers, a longtime resident and board president of Montgomery Towne Condominiums in Sycamore Township, Ohio, noticed the doors of her local pool chained shut, she felt a ripple of concern. The once bustling hub of community activity had fallen silent, stilled by the harsh reality of a persistent lifeguard shortage.
Rodgers, a retired IT consultant, had become a fixture in her community after years of service and engagement. She understood that the pool was more than just a place for residents to beat the summer heat; it was a vibrant node of communal interaction. Listening to the frustrations of her fellow residents who mourned the loss of their beloved gathering place, she felt compelled to take action.
Reminiscing about her youth in the late 1960s, Rodgers remembered, "I did this lifeguard thing back then." The thought sparked an idea that ignited her determination. Despite the chasm of years, she decided to dust off her skills and don the whistle and sunscreen once again to become a lifeguard.
Of course, the challenge was not without its hurdles. Over five decades had passed since her initial lifeguard training, and Rodgers had not worked professionally in the role. As she confessed, the nature of lifeguarding had undergone a radical transformation from her past experience.
Recalling the lifeguarding landscape of her youth, she mused, "It's hugely different. The lifeguard back then would sit in the chair and might blow the whistle occasionally to tell you to stop running or so. They had no props, no flotation device, all they had was a whistle. So they were really more police than anything else."
In response to this evolution of lifeguard duties, Rodgers undertook the task of retraining. "I went and got the precertification just to make sure that I could pass the physical test first, which I found out I could, so I was happy about that, and then I went through the full training," Rodgers commented, her commitment shining brightly in her words.
Her commitment and determination were indeed needed. As Jeff Blume, president of Cincinnati Pool Management, and Rodgers' new employer, emphasized, the lifeguard training was not a casual endeavor. "[Lifeguard candidates] have to swim a 300-yard length and that is 12 laps at a traditional swimming pool. They have to tread water for the allotted amount of time and then they have to swim a length and then submerge and grab a 10-pound brick off the bottom of the pool," Blume explained.
Rodgers is a lifeguard at the pool at Montgomery Towne Condominiums in Sycamore Township, Ohio. (CREDIT: Gail Rodgers)
However, Rodgers, a mother of two and a grandmother of three, was undeterred. Drawing on her reservoir of tenacity, she successfully passed the physical exam, achieved her certification, and was officially instated as a part-time lifeguard on May 27.
Once she took her post, she discovered that the role brought more rewards than simply helping her community. Rodgers confessed, "It's been fun watching the kids playing with their parents and people enjoying the nice weather in the pool. It's been a lot better and more pleasant than I expected it to be."
In order to become a lifeguard, Rodgers had to pass a skills test that included swimming 300 yards, treading water, and picking up a 10-pound brick at the bottom of the pool. (CREDIT: Gail Rodgers)
The positive feedback wasn't unilateral. Blume commended Rodgers’ contributions to the team, expressing, "It's been a joy to have Rodgers on our lifeguard staff." He appreciated her dedication, noting, "These individuals don't walk in your door that often, so you cherish when they do walk in the door and what they bring to the table. It's not a job to her, it's an experience, and that's critical."
Given her positive experience, Rodgers encourages other seniors to consider a similar path. With the ongoing lifeguard shortage plaguing pools nationwide, she contends, more older adults could step up to the task. She argued, "I think a lot of people could be doing this, and it might be good for them to get out and do this even. [It] pays well. You can set your own schedule. Doesn't get much better than that."
Blume echoed her sentiments, acknowledging the existing stigma attached to the role, often seen as suited solely for younger individuals. He explained, "There's maybe a stigma or a fear of 'I can't do this' or 'That's not for me. That's for the young kids,' or something like that. So, there's a lot to overcome."
Gail Rodgers came out of retirement to become a lifeguard when she noticed there was a lifeguard shortage at her condo's residential pool. (CREDIT: Gail Rodgers)
Yet he offers hope, reassuring that help is available for those interested, "If people wanted to do it, we could help them with the skills and give them a little bit more of a boost before they actually take the class, kind of like a pre-course. If people realize that that was an option, I think that they might not look at the skills test as such a steep mountain to overcome."
The story of Gail Rodgers is not just about a retiree who found a new calling. It is a testament to the power of determination, community, and the unexpected benefits of stepping outside of comfort zones. Through her inspiring journey, Rodgers underscores the potential that lies within all of us to make a difference, no matter our age or life stage, by plunging headlong into the waters of new challenges.
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