Chronic Lifeguard Shortage Serves as Springboard to Address Racial Inequities

by | Jun 12, 2023 | Health

Two summers ago, a teenager who had jumped off the diving board started struggling in the deep end, her arms flailing. It took only a few seconds for lifeguard Makenna John to notice the girl’s distress. She grabbed her rescue tube, jumped in, and helped the girl to safety.

This summer is Makenna’s third lifeguarding at the public pool in Roxana, Illinois, a village in the St. Louis area. Although dramatic rescues are relatively rare, she estimates that up to a quarter of the roughly 50 people she keeps a watchful eye on during a shift can’t swim. Then there are the daredevils and children whose parents think they’re better swimmers than they are.

“It’s stressful because you’re responsible for ensuring the safety of all the people at the pool,” said Makenna, 17.

Lifeguarding may look like a cushy job. What’s not to like about lounging in a chair by the pool all day? But the job carries a load of responsibility.

Drowning is the No. 1 cause of death for children ages 1 to 4, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Most of those deaths occur in swimming pools. For kids 5-14, drowning is the second-most common type of unintentional injury death, behind motor vehicle deaths.

As schools let out and warm summer days draw people to pools and beaches around …

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