It Is Not My Job…Not

It is not my job,” said the lifeguard after the race.

We beg to differ. In an open water race, it is everyone’s job to make sure everyone is safe and well taken care of before, during and after an open water swimming competition. We strongly encourage everyone – from spectators to friends – to share a deep concern for every participant in every competition.

When we analyze accidents and deaths in open water swimming competitions, it is more likely than not a fellow competitor who is literally the first responder. Safety personnel, Coast Guard, divers, and lifeguards are the best trained and best prepared individuals to take care of emergency situations, but it is usually a Good Samaritan, a fellow competitor, or a volunteer who notices problems in the water…or after.

But to ignore a situation, especially when wearing the signature red shorts and white polo shirt of the lifeguard corps, is nothing more than disappointing than to ignore a simple situation that can be easily corrected.

This situation was witnessed at a recent open water swimming competition. The top women were told to wait at the shoreline finish in an open-air tent until officials got them the OK to proceed out of the tent. The women had just finished a 2-hour race in 72°F water. They had exerted themselves as much as they could in a tremendously fast and pressure-packed race. When they got out of the water and stood in an increasingly stiff wind, they were without towels or protection from the elements.

Although they were offered cold bottles of water, you could see how quickly they got chilled. They began to shiver. But the women were not allowed to move or interact with their coaches or others. At the time, the drug-testing procedures and policies took first priority and no one could intercede on behalf of the swimmers. Several minutes went by and they started to cool off even more as their body temperatures dropped. It was not a life-threatening situation by any stretch of the imagination, but it was becoming increasingly uncomfortable as towels and protection were not in the cards. So a lifeguard was asked if an athlete could get a towel or if any towels were available.

It is not my job.”

It is not my job is not something we expected when swimmers are chilled in an unprotected environment. And this was not the first time we have seen this situation. In contrast to the lifeguard’s opinion, we believe that care must be taken for the athletes both in and out of the water – at all times and even bordering on doing too much for the athletes. We have seen too many accidents happen and were disappointed with the mindset of the lifeguard.

We encourage all race directors, safety personnel, volunteers, and event management staff to understand all aspects of potential hyperthermia and hypothermia among swimmers of all ages and abilities. We encourage them to look at the face and skin of athletes before, during and after a race in order to understand and anticipate unexpected situations and avoid emergencies. It is a mindset that should be ubiquitous in our sport.

One day when you least expect it, it may be your teammate, son, daughter, husband, wife, uncle, aunt, or friend who may need help.

That ubiquitous mindset to take care of all at all times will be important in those critical times. Action and care should the highest priority. It is easy to simply ask, “Are you okay?” or “Do you need a towel?” or “Would you like to sit down?” or “Should I call someone for you?” It is much better to be safe than sorry.

Because it is everyone’s job.

Copyright © 2013 by Open Water Swimming

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *