Friday, March 27, 2009

Plus-Sized Heroes

I took my kids swimming the other night. My Scout had some swimming tests to take (he aced them) and my other kids and I went along to burn some energy and have some fun.

While we were there, it was extremely crowded so I didn't have much chance for any meaningful swimming, alas. When things started to thin out a little, I struck out across the little kids' warm pool (it does have a semi-deep end where you can actually swim a bit) and just stretched my legs a bit.

On the way back from one of those "laps," I saw the life-guard, definitely a plus-sized girl, looking intently at a kid in the water just ahead. I looked closer, but wasn't sure what I was seeing. No one was underwater and drowning, but it looked to me like there was a kid there having trouble staying afloat in water too deep for him to touch bottom. He was trying to tread water but was working awfully hard and looking very stressed.

I was debating whether to grab him, just in case he was in trouble, but since he wasn't facing me straight on, I wasn't sure if he really was in trouble or not. I didn't want to just grab a kid I didn't know out of the blue for no reason, you know? Might freak him out. So I hadn't grabbed him yet, but I was going to ask him if he was okay.

Before I could, though, the lifeguard jumps in the pool and comes for the boy, gets him out of the pool and into the back area, out of sight. From the reaction of her co-workers afterwards, it does look like the boy was in real trouble and she just got to him before it got to the true emergency stage.

I was sorry I had hesitated in grabbing him; shouldn't have second-guessed my instincts. But really, I don't know if I realistically could have gotten to him first anyhow. Maybe, maybe not. Either way, the good news is that the kid was fine. Whew.

I saw the lifeguard in the staff's glass-walled supervision room after the crisis was over, sobbing her heart out. I think she was having the classic post-adrenaline reaction after a life-threatening handle everything fine in the moment (while your mind is thinking ohmygodohmygodohmygodohmygod....) and then later, when the crisis is over, your body does the ohmygodohmygodohmygod thing too.

The supervising lifeguard, an older woman, spent quite a bit of time helping her through this. From another friend of mine (whose lifeguard daughter actually saved a drowning, under-the-water-about-to-die child), I gather this is a really common, normal reaction, especially the first time you save someone.

At the end of the "free swim" time, the lifeguard was back to clean-up duties etc. I made a point to go over to her and tell her what a good job she did and give her lots of kudos. She blushed but I think she was glad to have someone acknowledge her. She confirmed it was her first save and I told her that her reaction was very normal. She thanked me, we commiserated, and then we both went about our business.

But all night I was thinking about how proud I was of her, not only as a guard but also as a woman of size. You don't see a lot of plus-sized lifeguards....I've seen a few, but never any as plus-sized as she was (only mid-sized, but still bigger than your average guard by quite a bit). Obviously she was very fit ("despite" her size, I'm sure in some people's minds) and had passed all the qualifying stuff with flying colors because that swim center has its pick of guards who train there.

I was proud of her for not listening to the usual nonsense about fatness and fitness and letting it keep her from this line of work and from saving a life. And I was proud of her boss, for seeing beyond stereotypes and hiring whomever was most qualified without regard to size.

I'm sure most people, looking at her on the street, would not think she was fit enough to be an athlete, let alone save a life, but she was, and she did a great job. Brava to her!

And bravo to all the fathletes everywhere who don't let the naysayers keep them down.


Engineer Mommy said...

Love this post!!!

I have been a lifeguard myself for a student job and I was (am) not built like a typical athlete either.

I think the stereotype will change eventually. It will just take a lot of time and courageous people like the ones mentioned in your post.

Rose Campion said...

I wasn't allowed to take the life guarding class in high school because of my size. They didn't say that exactly, of course, but some bull about they thought I wasn't a strong enough swimmer. Which is such a lie, because I was a varsity swimmer and can swim laps for literally hours. I was as strong a swimmer as my thinner sister, who was allowed to take the life guarding class. Instead, I was stuck in the regular swimming class for my PE requirement. It was such a joke as I could swim circles around anyone else in the class.

I suppose I could have tried to get red cross training later in life, but if you do the training as a high school class, it's convenient and free.

Anonymous said...

that reminds me of my paternal grandmother; when my dad was a kid in the 60s, one of her jobs was a summer lifeguard for the YMCA (both sides of my family, the women have always had jobs, even 100 years ago, a bit of the working poor or something). She was, even then, a *big* lady. 5'8" and with shoulders and thighs to give a linebacker a run for his money, and never smaller in her adult life than a modern size 20-30. and she did that for years-- a 30-40 something 1/2 irish 1/2 cherokee fat amazon protecting the kiddies.

and i look just like her, except i'm a bit smaller in the tummy (but i haven't had 4 kids in quick succession, or battled diabetes for a lifetime when the treatment for it was crap, either, and my paternal grandfather's genes appear to be kicking the native diabetes gene's ass, the occurrence of diabetes in that side of the family has dropped dramatically, no matter size).

wellroundedtype2 said...

I was certified as a lifeguard (but never worked as one), although I probably wasn't as strong a swimmer as I could have been, when I was about 15 and not slim but not yet fat, really.
I'm so glad you said something to that girl, I'm sure it really boosted her confidence. I'm sure that episode is one she will always remember.

I don't think I would qualify now, but that experience of training to become a lifeguard set me up to think of myself differently. I am so sorry, Rose, that you weren't allowed to take the class.

Cherie said...

Thankfully the community pool we go to has lots of fat people who work there: guards, instructors, water aerobics instructor, supervisors, team coaches, and office staff. Along with lots of fat people who regularly swim. So my kids see people of all sizes involved in swim fitness.

Unfortunately the gym in the SAME building is a totally different story. I was not comfortable at all in there.

Okibum said...

Great post, it is inspiring. It's nice to see that it is possible to be bigger and healthy. :-)