I’ve been swimming at the McGaugh Elementary School pool in Seal Beach for a decade. I’m a short timer. Others have been swimming there regularly for three or four decades. We may not all know each other by name, but we certainly recognize each other – at least if we’re in our bathing suits.
So my heart sank when I pulled up to the McGaugh parking lot on a recent Sunday to see two fire trucks and two ambulances. ‘Not good,’ I thought. I walked through the gate and heard one of the young lifeguards, Hunter, say, “Heck of a first day on the job.”
You could hear a pin drop. All the swimmers were out of the pool on this beautiful, sunny morning, looking on with shock, concern, disbelief – and joy. The only sounds I could hear were the muffled words of one of our swimmers, talking through an oxygen mask as the paramedics continued to check his vital signs and prepare him for a trip in the ambulance. But these first responders weren’t the first to respond.
No, it was another swimmer a lane over from this gentleman who noticed he wasn’t moving. Then he caught the attention of Paige, who was also in that lane. They confirmed he wasn’t just holding his breathe and called the lifeguards, Hunter and Alex over for help.
All three of them quickly moved this gentleman onto a backboard. Paige credits, a long-time swimmer, Peggy with helping to keep everyone calm and coordinated. He described how extraordinary it was to see 17-year old Hunter and 20-year old Alex follow their first-aid training to the letter. They revived the gentleman with an AED. It took a few minutes before he started breathing again. When he did, his first words were, “Thank you for saving me.”
The police arrived to interview everyone involved in the rescue. My next thought was ‘I wish Shelly and Nora (our head lifeguards) were here to see how they did.’ I was so proud of them for the way they had trained these young men to react in an emergency. And then I turned around to see them enter the gate and tend to Alex and Hunter.
As the paramedics wheeled this gentleman out of the pool area, I felt compelled to clap for him. It was my spontaneous way of offering some encouragement and a welcome back. I didn’t know if it was remotely appropriate, but then others joined in.
We stood around for several minutes quietly talking to one another about what transpired. Then Nora gave us the news that the pool would be closed. I never got my swim in that morning. I got something better. I got to witness the care and the love that my fellow swimmers have for each other. I got to see a man survive after a very close call. If this long-time swimmer had stayed home to eat pancakes that day, no one would’ve been there to witness it or help him. Because he showed up, he’s still here.