Lifeguarding

Describe a place or environment where you are perfectly content. What do you do or experience there, and why is it meaningful to you?

With forested hills open to exploration and a lake for boating and fishing, Spring Lake Park has become a second home to me. I come here regularly for a run, a bike ride, or a walk with my family. I have participated in community work days and completed my Eagle Scout Service Project here. But Spring Lake has become more to me than the location of my dreams: I work here as a lifeguard at the Spring Lake Lagoon. When I am on duty, my body is hoisted up into the white, sunburnt chairs, and the lives of those in the musty water are now in my hands. This is my first job, and certainly the most important task in my life; because I am one of few open water lifeguards in Sonoma County, people trust me to save them in water with less than a foot of visibility.

While the pressure of saving lives sometimes gnaws away at me, I am revitalized by the surrounding environment. The rolling chaparral and mirroring lake offset the pressure of preserving the lives of those in the water. The towering redwoods and blanket of fog that enclose the sandy beach provide a sense of seclusion, where I am free from the influences of society. The encircling trails and nearby snack shack filled with lively people establish a cheerful atmosphere where I can leave behind my struggle to maintain healthy relationships with my family and friends. The challenging task to continue my commitment to athletics and further my intellectual pursuits is whisked away with the brisk breeze, while I scan intently, chewing on sunflower seeds, armed with a rescue tube and paddleboard, awaiting the menacing moment that demands a sprint into the clouded water.

During rotation, which can last up to two hours, I ponder what defines me. The busy lagoon stirs with patrons vaulting into the water, playing pass, and roughhousing; their energetic squeals and splashes put the lagoon into a state of chaos. My pensive expression hides behind reflective blue shades where I relive the excitement of the child building sandcastles, the thrill of the friends partaking in a swim race, and the happiness of the toddler collecting rocks from the shallows. All the while I watch and anticipate the worst.

Code Green: the phrase lifeguards announce over the intercoms at Spring Lake to indicate that an emergency is in progress. Being in the break room while this happens means an all-out sprint with a 60 pound medical backpack across the lagoon. Adrenaline fuels me while bolting out onto the sand with all that weight strapped on. The victim’s pulse, level of consciousness, blood pressure, and physical state (among other vitals) are all that matter. The conclusion of an emergency marks a transition from anxiety to tranquility and the day continues, as the next crisis looms.

As the day winds down and the shadows creep across the lagoon, preparations for closing begin. All is silent when I carry the equipment in across the beach. The lagoon is empty. The patrons have packed up and vacated their once bustling picnic areas. Only footprints blemish the sand. All that is left is calm, motionless water and a crimson sunset, darkened by the redwood silhouettes. When the shadows recede and the sun reappears, I come back to find the sand neatly groomed and familiar equipment put back on the chairs, as if nothing had happened the day before. Thus, the cycle continues, with the enriching environment and demanding job that maintain a delicate balance in my life.

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