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the occasions lady and

Summers in the Lifeguard Stand
by Audrey Poff, illustration by Brittney Guest

I had a few summer jobs as a teenager, but by far the one I enjoyed the most was working as a lifeguard in my hometown.

Like many of the kids that I grew up with in Blytheville, I learned to swim through the American Red Cross’ Learn to Swim program offered at Coalter’s Clearwater Pool each summer. Regardless of age, every participant in the program began with a small patch of blue material pinned to his or her swimsuit and advanced to the next color level as they mastered a certain skill set. Blue was the most basic level – put your face in the water, blow bubbles, open your eyes, etc.

Over the years, hundreds of children and adults learned to swim as a result of the local program organized by dozens of Red Cross volunteers and Jesse Coalter, the pool owner. Coalter had a loud, boomy voice and could be gruff when he needed to be, but if you were there to learn, he treated you fairly and you had a fun time learning to swim. If you were there to cause trouble, he might personally escort you out of the facility.

After completing the swim program, I spent most summers volunteering to teach swim lessons and received my lifeguard and water safety instructor certification through the Red Cross program, also taught by Coalter. Over the years, I was able to use what I learned to teach others, including my own children, to swim and to pull two minors from the water on separate occasions. One of them now lives in Jonesboro and enjoys telling people how I saved his life after he hit his head on the bottom of a private pool after diving in as a teenager.

Last month, I got to relive a few days of my teenage years when our 16-year-old daughter chose to become certified as a lifeguard through the American Red Cross. With the help of Pam Knapp-Carver, executive director of the Northeast Arkansas chapter of the American Red Cross, we were able to find a nearby program so Sophie could become ACR certified. As a result, she has her first summer job.

Lifeguarding, as long as the program is well managed, can be a fun summer job. Those summers working at the pool were some of my most memorable – working with friends, music blaring from the speakers while trying to keep teenage boys from causing bodily harm as they competed for attention from the diving boards. To this day, when I hear any song from Prince and the Revolution’s Purple Rain album, it takes me straight back to the ‘80s and my days as a lifeguard at Blytheville Country Club.

It doesn’t seem like that long ago that I was teaching Sophie to swim in the backyard pool or judging cannonball contests as she and her friends jumped in from the rock on the deep end. Although I hope she never has to rescue anyone, it’s good to know that she could help others in an emergency. After being a mom for more than 25 years, I finally have a child who is following in my footsteps – at least for the summer. Now, if one of them will just take over the magazine some day!