Grandma?s come a long way from donning an apron and baking cookies or sitting in her rocking chair while knitting a sweater. Today, she?s traded the apron for a swimsuit, the rocking chair for a lifeguard seat. And she?s definitely fit, quick-thinking, disciplinary and in charge.
Meet the new, er, old generation of guards. Though lifeguarding grandmas and grandpas aren?t expecting to become the next Pamela Andersons or David Hasselhofs, they could help remedy many facilities? staff shortages. And as baby boomers retire and look for new opportunities, a number are finding their calling at local pools.
?If you?re a retiree and not looking at the bottom-line paycheck but for an opportunity to make a difference and get that sense of reward, [being a lifeguard] has a real appeal,? said Sherri Olson Roberts, health and safety services director of the Washtenaw County Red Cross in Michigan.
This Red Cross chapter began targeting seniors when it started losing teen candidates to fast-food restaurants and clothing retail. Through information on the senior section of its Web site, the chapter was able to attract a handful of prospects. Some had once worked in aquatics and still had their lifeguarding certificates. The chapter also targeted others who were athletic and capable of saving lives.
Chris Fennell likes to hire older guards for a number of reasons. ?They show up on time,? said the operations manager of Jeff Ellis Management, who is contracted to work with the Vaughan Athletic Center in Aurora, Ill. In addition, seniors are easier to schedule than students, who have to deal with school and college classes.
Jeff Ellis Management offers a senior lifeguard program besides its regular and junior lifeguard classes. The senior lifeguard position is for people ages 55 and older, allowing them to train with others their own age.
Fennell, who has hired stay-at-home mothers as well as retirees, said his older guards get along very well with the younger guards. The youths look up to them, and the older ones feel rejuvenated doing the job they once held in high school or college.
?It brings a lot of people together while doing the same thing,? he said. ?A lot of the younger lifeguards have learned to respect the retirees.?
In return, the older guards are ?pretty active people who are excited because it brings them back to their youth, working with kids,? Fennell said.
Older guards enjoy the other perks associated with the job: a fun environment, access to a pool, extra cash and, in some cases, free membership to the fitness center. They often befriend and even recruit senior lap swimmers to be lifeguards as well.
Aside from being mature, wiser and full of life experiences, older guards possess another quality that their teen counterparts lack: They?re morning people.
?We open at 5:30 a.m., and it?s hard to get college kids to get up at that time,? said Sarah Murray, aquatics and fitness director at the Albemarle Family YMCA in Elizabeth City, N.C. She relies on a 65-year-old female guard to open the pool every morning.
?Age is not a factor,? said Murray, who only wanted to know if the guard could perform the skills required for the job. ?But [older guards] bring a different level of maturity to the position that you wish so many more would emulate.?