Faced with the prospect of not having their pool open for the summer season, some Whispering Pines residents jumped into action. “It was no lifeguards, no pool,” said Candy Robinson, who helped organize an effort to get lifeguards.
She said not enough teenagers were getting certified to meet the high demand for lifeguards in the Cape Region.
The lifeguard shortage in this area is not unique. According to the American Lifeguard Association, the shortage is affecting one-third of all public pools in the country. Some have been forced to cut back hours and others have closed altogether.
The Whispering Pines group became Red Cross-certified and are now lifeguards. Of the group, one is still working full time, one was out of a job and another is close to retiring. But the majority are retirees, including 70-year-old David Rockefeller, who are past their lifeguard prime, they say. Let’s say they don’t fit the profile of the young muscular lifeguards we are familiar with.
“We're not old, we are mature,” Rockefeller said with a grin. “We hope we can inspire other people to get certified in the future.”
Robinson said Aquatic Management Systems, which manages the pool and pays the lifeguards, came looking for lifeguards within the community off Janice Road near Lewes.
The pool was closed over Memorial Day weekend, which is typically a popular time to kick off the season. When enough lifeguards were certified, the pool opened June 22.
The group said the two-day certification training was not a walk in the park, because they all had to successfully complete all requirements, including CPR training and a water rescue in 8 feet of water.
The lifeguards include Robertson, Rockefeller, Dieter Kortsch, Kimberlee Kelly, David Schilling, Brian Martin and Terry Hampson.
One of the lifeguards has a lot on his plate, but still got his certification. Schilling, owner of flooring and handyman businesses along with Martin, is the father of three with another baby on the way, but he still wanted to help out.
“We are a family who is doing this for each other,” Schilling said. “We help each other as a real team.”
Schilling and Martin have worked out a schedule so they can still do their full-time jobs and spend a few hours lifeguarding as well.
When word got out that a team of lifeguards was in place at Whispering Pines, other communities facing the same dilemma reached out, Robertson said.
Kelly lifeguards at Aspen Meadows and Mariner's Cove, and Hampson works at the Sweetbriar community pool.
Hampson, who is retired from the U.S. Navy, is the only one with experience, having served as a lifeguard during his teen years.
“We are not doing this for the money. We are doing this to keep pools open,” Kelly said. “They faced the same situation we did.”
Whispering Pines, a community of 325 manufactured homes with a mix of full-time and weekend residents, has a large pool. “We really need to have two guards on at a time, especially on weekends,” Robertson said.
So, they work out a schedule that suits everyone so the pool can stay open every day from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Part of the blame for the national lifeguard shortage can be tied to canceled certification courses during 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The lack of J-1 visa workers, who are prime lifeguard candidates, has also played a part in the shortage.
In the most high-profile lifeguard shortage situation in the area, as Memorial Day was approaching, City of Lewes officials were considering a season without lifeguards at its two public beach sites. Thanks to the efforts of veteran lifeguard Kent Buckson, Makos Swim Club coach Strohm Edwards was hired as Lewes lifeguard captain, and he was able to recruit enough lifeguards for the summer season.