It’s not the only organization offering lifeguard training anymore. But with nearly 90 years of doing just that, the American Red Cross is still the certification organization of choice. That makes Mike Espino, manager of aquatic development at ARC, the industry’s certification czar.

Indeed, the Falls Church, Va.-based organization certifies roughly 91 percent of all U.S. lifeguards, according to internal studies of its industry market share. On average, it certifies an estimated 200,000 guards each year.

Unfortunately, Espino says, too many see lifeguarding as just a summer job. He wants to change that. “Lifeguarding can be a base to jumping toward bigger things by teaching life tools,” Espino says. “Ronald Reagan used to be a lifeguard.”

Espino actually joined ARC when the lifeguard program was coming due for its next five-year revision. Even for someone with significant technical expertise, piloting the two-year revision process was a considerable task.

Espino also created ARC’s first lifeguard management program from scratch. Now he’s in the middle of the 2006 update.

Between his outreach efforts in the field and numerous speaking events at conferences, his commitment to ARC and industry presence are undeniable. But what does Espino see as ARC’s biggest challenge? Getting aquatics managers to take the reins of their own programs, and instilling lifeguards with a sense of professionalism.

“Everybody looks to the ARC as if we can do everything for them,” Espino says. “Well, no. We can provide them with the initial tools and resources. After that, these folks need to take ownership of maintaining the safety and development of their facilities themselves.” — Joshua Keim