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From Lifeguard Certification to Endurance Swimmer

May 23, 2022

The summer of my 7th-grade year, I taught myself to swim at a place called Camp Exchange. Even though that was 45 years ago, I’ve never thought of myself as a strong swimmer and certainly, the thought of becoming a lifeguard never entered my mind. I mean, I knew the basics of swimming. I could navigate the water and swim well enough to save myself, if unexpectedly thrown from a boat in deep water. However, I knew nothing about proper stroke technique, bilateral breathing and definitely nothing about breathing through my nose or heaven forbid, flip turns!

Lifeguard Certification

When I learned that the YMCA was offering free certified lifeguard training classes, I thought to myself, “Tony, you should sooo do that.” But, the more rational side of me said, “Man, you’re 58 years old. Why would you put yourself through that?” Even though I consider myself to be in pretty good physical shape, I still had serious reservations. The thing that frightened me the most wasn’t learning CPR. It was the swimming!

One of the first assignments during the lifeguard training was to swim 25 yards to the end of the pool, retrieve the rescue buoy tube and then swim 25 yards back. Simple, right? Well, after the first 25 yards, I literally thought I was going to die! I tried desperately to conceal my utter fatigue, but everybody knew the old man was struggling.

Learning the basic swim drills

Even though I finished the training and earned my lifeguard certification, I felt a deep conviction that in order for me to believe that I could confidently jump into the water, swim to a victim 50 yards away and have the stamina to complete the rescue, I was going to need swim lessons.

Male with Lifeguard Certification instructor

YMCA swim instructor, Christi Durbin (left) with student, Tony Wise.

That’s when I met my YMCA swim instructor Christi Durbin. The first question Christi asked was “What do you want to accomplish from your swim lessons?” I told her that I wanted to learn proper swimming techniques and improve my endurance. She said, “I can help with that.”

For the next several weeks we started every swim lesson with me blowing bubbles underwater. I have to be honest and admit that this drill seemed silly for a man my age, but I was committed to taking all the necessary steps. Even when Christi asked me to do those 100-yard warmups with the dreaded kickboard, with the eye-roll of a teenager, I obliged. Ugh! Though annoying, Christi reminded me that most of the drills were to train the large muscles and help me develop muscle memory.

The results of the Lifeguard Certification

I’m happy to report that although I’m still no Michael Phelps, I am a certified lifeguard with zero concerns about reaching a victim 50 yards away and having the stamina to complete a rescue. I can swim 100 yards without feeling fatigued. My recovery time between swimming multiple laps has also decreased. Believe it or not, I’m giving serious thought to training for my first Iron Man Sprint before my 60th birthday. The difference between me and the man I was a few months ago is that I now believe that swimming 500 to 750 meters or 820 yards non-stop is possible.

The YMCA is proud of Tony for his lifeguard certification and all his other accomplishments. He is a great example of what can be accomplished with a lot of motivation and a little bit of training. Learn more about the YMCA to see what programs we have to connect you with inspiring members like Tony and start your own YMCA story.

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