Why I Can’t Wait for Summer…A Reason You Might Not Suspect

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Why I Can’t Wait for Summer…A Reason You Might Not Suspect

Abby Fortin, WSCH Coordinator

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Usually people associate work with stress, annoying co-workers/bosses and constantly feeling like you aren’t getting paid enough for what you do. I’m a unique case however, because I love my job and I love the people I work with (well…most of them) and there’s really nowhere I would rather be than sitting up in the guard stand at Welch Pool on an 80 degree day. Most people yearn for summer so they can sleep in, watch tv and do nothing all day but I’m counting down the days til the pool opens on Memorial Day weekend because it’s all clear skies from there (not literally, and thank God for that because rainy days at Welch means less patrons, which means hanging out in the guard room with the whole staff and pulling straws or guessing numbers to see who gets to go home first). Sitting around at the pool with a bunch of my friends and getting to lay down the law to kids who seem to run on deck more than they swim in the pool is the ideal summer experience to me.

I’ve been working at Welch Pool since the summer after my freshman year and the positive impacts that it has had on me are innumerable. From earning enough money to go in (almost) 50/50 on a car with my parents to creating friendships that will last a lifetime, my summer job has given me opportunities and experiences that without them, I wouldn’t be the person I am today. I’ve grown up in and around the water, taking swim lessons at a very young age and swimming and diving competitively since I was in elementary school. When it came time to search for jobs in the spring of 2014, I knew I wanted to work somewhere with flexible hours and decent pay that was preferably outside. My best friend was planning on applying at Welch as well, so I put in an application and went on to get my Red Cross Lifeguarding certification at Penn State. Since I’ve been involved with the water for many years, I’ve always valued being able to swim safely and be able to help someone if ever faced with a sticky situation. I know it sounds lame, but water safety and simply knowing how to swim is sooo important because about 71 percent of the Earth’s surface is water!! As time goes on, who knows what’s going to happen to the other 29 percent of Earth’s surface! One day we might be living in floating houses and driving boats instead of cars! Probably unlikely, but the possibility should definitely encourage people to learn how to become strong swimmers.

After working at the pool for one week, you can tell who the regulars are, who causes trouble and the warning signs of kids who probably shouldn’t be in the deep end unattended. I’ve only been guarding for two short summers, but it’s a great feeling to come back to the pool day after day and year after year to see the same faces wrecking havoc at Welch. Pool cliques do exist, and drama does go down occasionally. Even though we have to intervene if fights ever break out, it’s worthwhile to eavesdrop on the juicy gossip some of the kids share with each other. You can hear just about everything from a guard chair. Mom gossip, which is the best kind of conversation, isn’t a rarity either. Who doesn’t love a good conversation between “Mrs. Johnson” and “Mrs. Kelly” about how Nicky’s mom sends him to the pool without sunscreen!? How atrocious is that? Or how Katy Fitzgerald is running for PTO President at Ferguson Elementary but nobody is going to vote for her, so why is she even trying?! Working at the pool means you have your finger on the pulse of everything that’s going on in State College from the end of May to the beginning of September. It also means that you know almost every kid in town and their siblings and what their mom looks like, what their dad looks like, what school they go to and who their friends are. It seems kind of creepy when you write it all out like that but it’s just so easy to be observant of these things when it’s literally your job to observe. And since you know every 8 year old who lives in State College, seeing them in public over the winter months is always exciting. I can’t even tell you how many times a kid I’ve taught swim lessons to has come up to me in public and asked if I remember them. Like, of course I remember you!! I saw you everyday for a month! I always make sure to ask if they’re still practicing their swimming–that’s a rhetorical question because I know that most of the time they aren’t, but it feels good to get them to crack a smile. Seeing the same kids get old and families grow (literally grow in size) every summer is an experience that not everyone gets to have and it’s definitely something I don’t take for granted. Nothing makes me more excited for my own future when I see the huge bellies of pregnant moms that are about to pop turn into toddlers running around a year later. Spending five plus hours a day watching adorable babies waddle around in the water can really make you appreciate the simplicity and innocence of childhood.

Working as a lifeguard isn’t all eavesdropping and tanning however. Sometimes you actually have to interact with a patron–okay like, every other minute you have to interact with a patron, and it isn’t always a positive encounter. Although it totally sucks butting heads with a kid and even more so a parent, the rules are in place for a reason and it’s my job to enforce them. I actually enjoy blowing my whistle and telling, well, yelling at a kid who’s hauling across the deck with a pool float in tow. Most kids stop breaking rules after a guard yells at them once, but my favorite thing is when a kid continually breaks the rules and ignores everything we have to say while disrespecting us, talking back and questioning the rules…not. Nothing worse than a kid you can’t get through to. As I said before, the rules exist for a reason! Standing on the wet, slippery island in the leisure pool will most often result in injury, like falling off and cracking open your skull. Going down the slides head first? Concussion. Running on deck and tripping and getting a mouth full of gravel? Skinned knees, bruises and a trip to the dentist. Lifeguards aren’t out to get you; we just want to watch out for you and prevent accidents before they happen.

When the sun isn’t high in the sky and the temperature isn’t in the 80’s or 90’s, you’ll likely find the Welch staff cooped up in the guard room, listening to music, playing games, gossiping and (probably shouldn’t say this but…) snoozing from time to time. It’s always a race to see who gets the most desirable spot in the guard room—a comfy fold-out chair with cup holders that resides next to an outlet underneath the fan. The work atmosphere at Welch is definitely fun but also serious. We like to play card games, order Wings Over and have handstand contests, but we get down to business when we need to. You won’t meet a more dedicated group of people than those at Welch. We aren’t all fighting each other over who gets to clean up vomit or blood, but there’s no hesitation when someone needs help or something needs fixing. CRPR does a great job of hiring motivated individuals who are willing to work as much as 14 hours a day if necessary, and I’m definitely going to say that while 14 hours (6 am-closing) can be a craaaazy long time to be somewhere, the payoff is great. Literally, all I see is dollar signs when I’m working a shift that never seems to end.

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Junior, Ben Gingher, relaxing on a rainy day at Welch last summer.

Junior, Ben Gingher relaxing on a rainy day at Welch last summer.

I obviously have higher career aspirations than working as a lifeguard at Welch Pool and it’s so cheesy to say, but when you truly do what you love and love what you do, it’s not work, it’s just a good old time that you hardly ever get tired of. ILY Welch; thanks for the mems so far and all the rest to come!

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