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Lifeguard shortage

by Tom Muri
| July 26, 2023 12:00 AM

While swimming in Hawaii this winter I was disappointed in my overall swimming strength and endurance as I entered my 70s. In an effort to turn back time I started “Master Swimming” classes upon returning to Sedona, swimming three mornings a week.

America’s pools and beaches are increasingly being closed due to shortage of lifeguards. Phoenix this summer has to shutter one third of the pools due to shortages — during the hottest summer on record. Missoula, with its numerous pools, has difficulty with storages of lifeguards as well.

It isn’t because younger people are less willing to work than Boomers. Rather it is that younger generations make up a smaller share of the population than we did at the same age. We Boomers had fewer children than our parents and this trend has continued with each generation since.

I resolved to do some small part to help out.

I was fortunate to have wonderful lifeguards for my summers of youth at Whitefish’s City Beach during the 1960s. They were upperclass gals who would be graduating a few years earlier than me (WHS Class of 1970). I had teenager crushes on all of them.

In those days Whitefish’s City Beach had a wonderful diving board located 100 yards or so out from the beach. There was a regular diving board on the south side and a high dive on the north side facing the really Big Mountain. We taunted each other to dive from the upper deck protective side rails with the hopes of clearing the platform. I always made it into the water without hurting myself but now wonder if any one ever failed? Perhaps that is one of the reasons why this wonderful diving platform no longer exists.

A big summer day then might have had maybe 50 patrons all day long. Most of the swimmers were teenage boys like myself with the slightly older girls being the lifeguards tasked with protecting us from ourselves. In my mind, they are as young, vibrant and beautiful as they were well over half a century ago.

As mentioned, I resolved to do some small part to address the dearth of lifeguards. Missoula has become our summer time residence due to the wonderful activities of rafting, hiking, biking, tennis, swimming and of course, grandchildren.

This spring I contacted Missoula’s Recreation and Parks Department expressing an interest in becoming a part time lifeguard. Soon I was submitting an application and slotted for a weeklong lifeguard course in June.

I completed the course surrounded by 12 or so teenage boys and girls, together with the three city staff members tasked with providing in-depth training and skills needed for lifeguards.

After working shifts with them and other outstanding young men and women at Currents and Montana Splash, Missoula and Montana can take pride in the adults they are sending out into the world.

It is exhilarating and challenging working with these young whippersnappers. I encourage other retirees to become part time lifeguards to keep our pools and beaches open. It is a great way to contribute and feel young again while assuring future generations the swimming opportunities that Montana offers.

Tom Muri is a retired military lawyer. He is from Whitefish and writes from Hawaii, Arizona and Montana.