He grew up “in corn country and beans,” fondly referred to as Belvidere, Ill. But Lee Yarger has trained and influenced lifeguards around the world.

“I’ve been out there. I’ve seen it. Typically in academics, a lot of instructors and professors, all they’ve done is school. Master’s, then Ph.D., then teaching job,” he says. But with all of his hands-on exposure, “it’s neat having that perspective on operations.”

The 37-year-old coordinator and instructor at Ball State University in Muncie, Ind., develops and teaches the aquatics curriculum at the School of Physical Education, Sport and Exercise Science. The university is the only one with an undergraduate degree in aquatics, something Yarger is proud to run. He’s in the pool at least two hours straight twice a week, if not next to it all day long.

Prior to his employment at Ball State, he was the aquatics consultant/ supervisor for the city of Miramar, Fla. There, he helped oversee construction of the city’s new pool, securing a $1.5 million grant. When the pool opened in December 2000, he led water safety courses, teaching a monthly series called “‘Til Help Arrives.”

Yarger’s aquatics career began in the U.S. Marine Corps, where he trained troops to be lifeguards and operate pools in Okinawa, Japan.

Upon college graduation, he returned to Japan, working with the U.S. Department of Defense as aqua-tics director in Iwakuni. He oversaw the base’s new pool facility and staffed a Japanese waterpark open strictly for base personnel twice a year.

Yarger got a taste of the entertainment industry: During his graduate studies, he was the rescue diver and safety swimmer for crew and actors during a waterfront and waterborne filming. He recommended safe procedures, locations and emergency evacuation.

He also runs his own consulting firm called World Aquatic Training Education and Research, or WATER, LLC. His work doesn’t stop there: He has been published several times and holds multiple aquatics certifications from the American Red Cross.

In the future, Yarger hopes to convince industry training groups to accredit their programs through peer review. He says that step is imperative not only to the industry’s credibility, but also its independence.

“We need to get the industry experts and agencies to agree there are commonalities for competent staff regardless of what the position is,” he says. “How long will it be before the federal government steps in and regulates? Nobody wants that.” — Rin-rin Yu