MJ Overton, assistant director of aquatics and lifeguard at Wilderness at the Smokies, unlocked and pushed open the glass doors to the indoor section of the water park. He checked his watch: 7am. A group of new lifeguard hopefuls was scheduled to continue the three-day training program today; a process MJ viewed as an intensive interview. Six swimsuit-clad teenagers were soon assembled around MJ.
“We will start out with treading water,” MJ announced to the group. “If you will all follow me to the wave pool.” They set off across the white cement floors past the surfing station and children’s enclosed play area to the expansive wave pool which lay still and silent, its motors dormant. “You will each have to prove that you can tread water for two minutes using your legs only. Hop in everyone.”
The applicants obeyed, a skinny redhead by the name of Jackson doing a cannonball into the center of the pool. There were some snickers as the apprehensive swimmers made good use of their arms while the timer had not yet started.
“Ok, is everyone ready?” Asked MJ, checking his watch. “On the count of three. Now, remember, if you feel too tired or your legs cramp up, its ok to just swim to the side. No one is going to judge you. The redhead smirked; he already had his arms out of the water. “Ok, one…two…three. Arms up.”
The swimmers bobbed up and down looking to MJ like trained seals hoping for a fish. Two girls near the back of the partially submerged group were bobbing in time with each other, determined looks on their faces, while a stocky blond boy had his hands clasped on the back of his head, completely at ease.
“Thirty more seconds,” MJ called, glancing watchfully at a small brunette who was quite low in the pool, her chin and fingertips out of the water while her legs beat a tired freestyle beneath her. “And time,” said MJ. The swimmers relaxed. The redhead Jackson darted over to the edge, attempting to look casual but panting slightly.
“Good job, all of you. I will give you a minute to rest, but we are going to move on to the brick soon.” MJ showed the group a 10-pound blue block. “You will need to retrieve this from the bottom of the pool from a feet-first surface dive. Everyone out.”
The teens clambered out of the water to form a dripping line. Up first was the stocky blond who jumped in and sank right to the bottom and retrieved the brick with no hesitation. He nodded mutely as MJ offered him praise. Jackson was next, still breathing deeply. He paused for a moment after MJ threw the brick back in the water then jumped in and turned over in the water fighting for the bottom. The group watched anxiously as his blurred and rippling form hovered in the water, a small blue mass visible under his arm. Jackson made it to the edge and handed out the brick meekly. The brunette made it to the bottom of the pool but only managed to drag the brick up halfway before being forced to drop it. Everyone else was successful and dried off for the CPR and Aquatic Injuries courses.
The water park was almost ready to open. The previously hired lifeguards were in the meeting room waiting on MJ. He entered and delivered the usual pep talk.
“Remember everyone; lifeguards must model the rules they enforce. If you would stop a guest from doing something, please do not do it yourself. As you know, one short blast on the whistle is for getting the attention of guest, double short blasts to call a fellow lifeguard, one long blow is for emergencies and major emergencies require two long whistles. Stay hydrated. Does everyone have your Basic Life Support packs? Good, let’s get going.”
A lifeguard by the name of Ryan Allen approached MJ as the other lifeguards hurried to check their first assigned stations on the notice board. “MJ, Katelyn and I were wondering if we could switch our first stations. A few guests asked her if she could teach them on the wave rider at 9.” “That’s fine Ryan, just make sure each post is covered after you switch up in half an hour.” At 4:30, after he had finished arranging plans for the special event later that night, MJ headed back down to the waterpark to exhaust a couple of hours stationed at the now rapidly stirring wave pool.
The party hosted at the park for the three departing lifeguards was rousing with almost all of the 180 summer lifeguards and lasted until close to midnight. The celebration and MJ’s day ended with all of the departing guards being thrown into the wave pool to storms of cheering and applause.