Why I Trained to Become a Lifeguard

by belinda
lifeguard at Clifton

I thought it was high time for a blog post explaining all my recent activities, because training to become a surf lifeguard at the grand old age of 40 could be seen as a very obscure thing to do. Even more so for me, because I am a creature who loves her little comfort zone. It’s cosy in my shell and warm – everything is safe here. But here’s why I took the plunge recently and trained to become a lifeguard:

  • It’s a mid life crisis am I right?! Some people buy a Ferrari. Some pack up their lives and travel around the world. Others decide to run the Comrades. But it’s certainly true that when many people hit 40 they suddenly reevaluate their lives, and many do something that is completely out of character.
  • I don’t want to sit on the sidelines anymore. I’m married to someone who loves the ocean. He surfs, he paddles, he swims. He was brought up on the beach. As for me? I was brought up in the veld. The ocean was there for an occasional holiday but no one ever taught me how to dive under a big wave, to swim beyond the breakers, or what to do in a rip current. The ocean was a foreign country to me. But I’m tired of being afraid of it – my kids are growing up in the sea and I don’t want to be the only one sitting on the shore.
  • I needed a new physical challenge. I’m pretty fit generally, but I didn’t have a goal to work towards. I’m not going to run a marathon, I’m not training for the next race, so to have a reason to keep fit, and goals to work towards, is really motivating.
  • I’m not a natural swimmer. No one ever taught me how to swim freestyle properly. I just thrash around and try go as fast as I can, but then I quickly tire myself out and end up exhausted. It’s one thing being exhausted when you’re running, but when you’re utterly exhausted while swimming in the sea, you just have to carry right on, otherwise you’ll sink. And you’re out at sea you know, so nobody is going to bring the shore closer to you, except your own arms and legs! I quickly realised I needed some guidance so I signed up for some swimming lessons and just a few small tweaks in my technique (breathing, arm positions) made a huge difference. It’s all about the technique with swimming, and pacing yourself.
  • I learned essential life skills. When last did you do a first aid course? Do you know how to do CPR? What to do if someone is choking? I last did a baby CPR and choking course when my kids were little but I’d forgotten everything. I’ve learned essential life skills on this course, from dealing with wounds, to a bit of self-defence, to literally trying to save lives with CPR and the Heimlich manoeuvre. Things we all hope not to have to use but if it comes down to it one day, we’ll be very grateful to know.
  • It’s good to be out of your depth (hello do you like my pun). As we get older, we get more set in our ways. We stick to things we know, things we’re good at. I’m not good at many of the things I learned on this course, and it was difficult, feeling weak and often completely incompetent! But you know what? I know it was good for me. There were a few times I just wanted to stop, because it was too hard. But nothing worthwhile was ever achieved easily.
  • I made some new friends. This wasn’t an initial goal of mine but when you’re seeing the same people for 8 consecutive weeks twice a week, you tend to bond a bit. I met some great people and look forward to seeing more of them.
  • I wanted to show my kids that you should set out to do things, and then do them. I feel that perseverance is a much underrated trait, and it needs to be cultivated in our kids. It’s one thing being a wunderkind at something and winning awards, but there is something hugely rewarding about persisting at something, getting better at it, and reaching goals. Talent is another beast entirely, but diligence and determination are what will see you far in life. I wanted to show them that.

So now it’s done (I passed!) and I look forward to summer training on the beach, donning my (first ever!) wetsuit once again, diving beneath the breakers and marvelling at the beauty that is all around me. When you’re drifting in the ocean, looking up at the sky and back to shore, with just the sound of the water all around you, it’s easier to forget about your troubles and concerns. You are simply focused on your body coexisting as a small speck in this giant universe. Maybe that was the biggest gift to come from all of this.

See you on the beach!






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