A few weeks ago I signed up to do something never in my life had I ever considered doing before – a Lifeguard course.
Yup. She who swims like a dead fly thought being a lifeguard was achievable.
I will give you a minute to stop laughing and wipe the tears from your eyes…..
Ok. Let’s start with signing up.
There weren’t any courses in my city within the next few weeks of me deciding this but there was one in the next city. This had its benefits. It would be unlikely I would know any one there so I could keep it secret, and, with the extremely high chance of me failing, this would mean fewer people finding this out. Why should that be a concern? It shouldn’t. But it is. I find it very difficult when people talk about me. But I’m working on ignoring it.
So I signed up to do it in Dundee. What a call that was. Oh my. I may have previously worked in a call centre but I wasn’t on the phones. This turns out to be a good thing as I am useless on the telephone. There is no delete button and I blurt things out without thinking. ‘Am I the oldest on the course? I mean I don’t really care as I am doing it anyway but a heads up if I am going to be the granny in the corner would be good.’ The woman on the other end of the phone found this hilarious – don’t know why. She basically said without checking dates of birth she couldn’t tell me but they do get a range of ages however most are quite young. Cue panic number one. Founded on embarrassment and confirmation that I will indeed be the wrinkly in the white bobble swim cap. Great.
The course was 30 miles away presenting Fear Number 2. Finding the bloody place. For someone who gets lost in a packet of crisps this is the stuff night terrors are made of. Just during the day. Awake. And living through it. I had to leave before I could drop the kids off and wouldn’t be back until late so it was old faithful Nanny to the rescue again. What would we do without my mum?
Needless to say the night before I got very little sleep. The clock said 4:30am the last time I looked at it and the alarm went off at 6am. So many fears going through my head. Could I really do this? I’ve never considered myself a good swimmer. Should I be doing this? I’m 36 and have 3 kids, I have responsibilities. The easy and obvious choice would be an office job surely. What if I couldn’t do it? Didn’t pass? Could I take yet another blow this year?
3 wrong turns and a near collision because I was in the wrong lane and I was sat in the car park at the college. Deep breaths Ella, deep breaths. I had forced down a banana for breakfast knowing that I would need energy and had sipped on a red bull to try and get me awake. The instructor was called Marco and he was from Italy. His accent was strong and he had been doing this for a long time. ‘You’re not actually the oldest here’ he said to me.
Mortified. I was mortified. Quite clearly my little slip on the telephone had done the rounds.
We started with learning how to use the torpedo and how to pull someone. I repeatedly caught my feet in the strap and kept getting burns. But I had to be able to pull someone holding on to it for 20 metres – fast. And that someone was guaranteed to be bigger than me. Then, as if that wasn’t going to be hard enough, I had to dive 3 metres and retrieve a heavy manikin.
Excuse me how deep?? That’s literally twice my height! No word of a lie! What number of Fear am I up to now?
After a morning in the pool we had a break and were able to catch our breath and talk to each other. It was a class of 12 and we ranged from just turning 16 the week before to over 40. There was even a fellow mum there. The rest of the day was spent in the classroom before returning to the pool to learn more holds.
Unsurprisingly I was exhausted when I got home. And I had a book the size of War and Peace to read through.
The next day was much the same. Although this time I managed to cut it down to just 2 wrong turns on the way there. I passed the swim test and I retrieved the manikin. I almost kept a straight face when Marco referred to 2 guys on the course as ‘sinkers’ – his translations weren’t always the most accurate shall we say. Luckily the guys he was referring to took it in good spirits (although one of them looked like he had zero body fat and was skin and bones – sinker was an interesting word for that one). I wasn’t fast in the pool at all but I wasn’t the slowest. I had to work really hard but I could do it. Just. This scared me. I didn’t want to just scrape through. The threat of failing was always there. Marco stayed and chatted to 3 of us after the pool on Tuesday and we practised a bit more. I went home feeling slightly better, but definitely not confident. I was also covered in bruises – from swimming? – getting in and out of a pool is hazardous for your health!
Wednesday came and it all went wrong. It will forever be known as Woeful Wednesday. It started with the journey there. I added a speeding ticket to my 2 wrong turns, 1 wrong lane and now bump on the kerb. I almost got lost in the campus trying to get to the pool – yes the same pool I had spent the last 2 days in. Worst of all, I failed my swim test. I had to get under 45 seconds and I was 46. When I was towing the casualty back with my arm we just didn’t move through the water. The problems kept on coming. I dropped the manikin in the deep water rescue and almost didn’t surface with it first time. In the final exam you get one chance and one chance only. Then my hand slipped pulling myself out the water and I landed on my shoulder with a thud. Something else to add to my embarrassment and multitude of bruises. In the classroom I felt I wasn’t picking anything at all up and when ever I asked a question Marco didn’t seem to understand me.
That night I sent a frantic essay of a message to a guy in the road runners who was a lifeguard. He gave me a call. ‘Ok, first thing, take a breath, stop panicking. Why are you doing it in a 3 metre pool though? Perth pools are only 1.8’. He talked me through what the assessment would be, the key things I would need to know for the exam and for being in the job. As it turns out he is an assessor too. I spent the entire time kicking myself for not waiting until he was running a course. Why was I putting myself through this when the pool in Perth isn’t as deep as 3 metres? What was I thinking? Just because I was a wimp and was scared someone might recognise me – what do you think is going to happen if you end up working at your local pool? That no one at all you know from your 36 years of living in the same place is going to come in? They are all going to stop going? Put your big girl pants on for god sake! Honestly!
Thanks to that call I did manage some sleep that night but not much. I kept dreaming I was going to slip and bang my head, fall in the water, blood pouring everywhere, Marco annoyed at the mess I was making, everyone looking at me and shaking their heads – not saving me because I should be able to save myself, and then of course there were ‘things’ in the water. Something else to add to the long list of failures of 2018. It’s no wonder I didn’t really sleep.
In the car on Thursday morning and I was white as a sheet feeling sick as a dog. I had dropped to only 30% convinced I could do this. The chat I had the night before was great and it had helped calm me down so I tried to just think about what he had said and that he was honest admitting it is a tough course. Driving along and Kelly Clarkson’s Stronger came on. I started tapping the wheel. Kind of out of nervousness but also out of a bit of ‘come on, push yourself a little’. I started singing along. I got louder and louder. The tears started. First just a few drops but very quickly that was it. Floods of tears, eyes streaming, voice screaming along to the radio. ‘What doesn’t kill you makes you STRONGER, stand a little TALLER’. Oh what a sight!!
But it worked. I needed to get it out. I felt slightly better. Slightly stronger.
Can you smell the cheese?
Standing at the pool waiting for the swim test and I was back to shaking. Well that burst in the car didn’t last long. I asked my swim partner if I could go first. She could tell I was nervous as hell – THAT I am 100% confident of! ‘Of course you can, don’t worry, we will practise as much as you need’. She had failed it the day before as well and was also nervous but she had a strong resolve of just trying again. I had a plan though. On the first test I had 15 seconds to spare. If I held back on that one I could give more on the second. I had to get under 45 seconds on it. I couldn’t take failing on it. It would kill me.
First swim done and it went as planned. Then it was straight on to the second. Nerves were just horrendous.
‘3 whistles lifeguard going in’ – I was off. I reached my casualty and I was on the way back. My legs have never kicked so hard in my life. I was trying to pull exactly as I had been told. I crossed the line and looked desperately up at Marco. ’38 seconds’.
‘Fuck yes! Oh god sorry for my language!’ The relief was immediate. I needed that. My partner nailed her swim test too. As for the manikin – not easy but done.
Friday was much the same. Pool in the morning with the swim test and holds, classroom before and after lunch then back to the pool. We were put in to 2 groups of six and our group worked well together. We took tips from the younger ones who were club swimmers and we shared advice with them on how to study for the questions. Turns out we all had our strengths and that in itself helped to boost confidence.
Saturday was exam day. It was an early start of 8.30am and through what can only be described as a miracle I found myself sitting in the car park at 7.30am. No wrong turns. But maybe a wrong lane. It’s hard to tell. Sitting outside in the sun everyone started to arrive and we discussed holds, CPR and nerves. I was unsure I was going to pass this and even though you get a few weeks to re-sit I really didn’t want to be in that position. No it wouldn’t make any difference in reality but in my head, it would.
Standing at the side of the pool and there was only 11 of us. One of the younger lads hadn’t turned up. The assessor asked someone to call him. No answer. An important part of being a lifeguard is being on time as a pool can never be left unattended. We had our first fail.
Swim test was first. I wanted to get mine out the way but it was assessors choice so I ended up in the second group. Deep breaths. In and out. Slowly. First test done. Straight on the second. A quick look at the clock and I can see I have done it. Oh thank god! We worked our way through the rest of the pool test. It was intense. There were tears from a few. I heard the assessor from the other group say he had never seen anyone do a hold like that before and don’t ever do it again. This was intense.
We re-grouped in the showers before the classroom test. The other group had been told they had all passed the water test but they couldn’t get a single thing wrong in the classroom. Our assessor hadn’t told us if we had passed or not.
I was confident with the questions so tried to focus on that. I’m a bookworm, I can study, and if it is something I’m interested in I will research the sh!t out of it. Yup. You found my geek spot. Unfortunately we were in a gym hall next to another gym hall that was holding a HIIT class. So questions went like this ‘give a sign and symptom of go deeper 2,3,4‘. Nightmare.
We moved on to the CPR to find the other group had finished. Out of the 5 of them that had turned up 2 had failed. We were up to 3 fails.
CPR done and it was an anxious wait. I tried so hard to tell myself I could re-sit in a couple of weeks and I would be more relaxed with it. I expected the fail.
So when he said I had passed, well, to say I was happy is an understatement! I had done it!
This was different from anything I have ever done before. When I have signed up to something there has always been a time I could see myself crossing the finish line. With this, for some reason I just couldn’t picture that conversation of ‘you’ve passed’. And I don’t know why. Maybe it’s because this is more serious. If I’m the lifeguard on and get something wrong someone could actually die. No one loses their life if I don’t finish my race or don’t run it within a time I had set myself. We had 4 fails in the end out of 12 who had started the course. We had someone injure their knee in the pool, someone who was sick after a swim test because they were pushing themselves so hard – and we all had the shakes from nerves.
I have no idea why I failed my swim test that once but that’s all it takes to remove that last sliver of confidence you have. My mid-week freak out was only calmed down by being able to speak to someone who understood and I trusted. Instead of shutting down I was honest and asked for help. When I told my friend about my speeding ticket and he replied ‘shame you don’t swim that fast’ it didn’t help in the same way no, but it made me laugh. (and he better hope I never have to save him as I bet he could reach the bottom of the 3 metre people he’s that big, ha ha)
So my first steps in changing career are done. I’m on the first rung of a ladder that goes 40 storeys high and no doubt 300 metres wide. Let’s see where this takes me.