Story of a… Lifeguard
For more than four decades, Kimberly Lytle has “lived the world of lifeguarding.”
As a swimmer, she was a late bloomer. The Miami native and Kissimmee resident “did not learn to swim until I was 9.” It was actually in Maryland, where she lived for about 11 years, that Lytle developed her love of the water. “Every day has been water-oriented since that point.”
A high bar. Lytle says the first steps to becoming a lifeguard include swimming 300 yards, treading water using only your feet, and carrying the equivalent of a 100-lb. person from the bottom of the pool to the side 20 yards away. “That’s to get you into the training program. The course itself is 32 hours.” Knowledge of CPR and rescue breathing are a must. Once certified, training continues. “The national standard for lifeguarding is four hours of in-service training a month,” plus training for recertification.
Everyone is vulnerable in the water. People tend to overestimate their abilities in the water. “Most of the rescues I’ve made involve people putting themselves in situations in which they didn’t expect the consequences. Suddenly they start to panic. Anyone can get in trouble—even me, unless I keep my wits about me.”
The pay isn’t commensurate with the responsibilities. Lytle works full-time as a history teacher at Neptune Middle School while working as a lifeguard on the side. “You cannot make a living from lifeguarding. The pay is not adequate for the credentials and the job performance, knowing that our whole goal is to save a life.”
Baywatch raised awareness of more than bikinis. “Baywatch, as hokey as it was, did emphasize that lifeguarding is a profession.” Lifeguarding has gained reputability over Lytle’s career. “Now we’re wearing uniforms. We’re first responders. We’re constantly watching.”
The day she had 25 saves. Two years ago, Lytle lifeguarded at the Clermont Warrior Dash, where she kept EMTs hopping with one save after another. “I don’t think I’ll ever surpass that one. It was a good day.” But she doesn’t consider herself a hero. “I’m just doing what I’m trained to do.”
“Parents are the CEOs: Constant Eyes On.” Lytle warns, “The leading cause of death for children under the age of 5 is drowning. It’s secondary in children 14 and under. Boys are more prone than girls because they’re the daredevils.” It’s necessary to watch kids and also teach them to swim at an early age. “The World Water Park Association states that if a child doesn’t learn to swim by the age of 8, then he may never learn.”
She’s always on. Because she’s trained in emergency rescues, Lytle remains alert, even on dry land. She recently pulled over to help an elderly woman who fell on the sidewalk.
The day she’ll leave the chair. Lifeguarding requires physical strength, so Lytle—who has received multiple honors and sits on two boards—swims, bikes, goes to the gym and does long-distance competition swims to stay in shape. “I work out all the time. I can’t afford to be out of shape for this job. When I can no longer physically do it [lifeguard], I’ll quit—not before.”