“18 laps to go,” I hear from the dock while I’m covered in muck from the bottom of the lake. I was three hours away from home during what was supposed to be my summer vacation. I was swimming eight hours a day while wondering if I made the right decision. I was deep into my fifth year of Boy Scout camp and I was working on becoming a BSA certified lifeguard that year at summer camp hoping to then get a job on the North Fork near my summer house.
Lap after lap all that was in front of me was that never-ending lake. Once finished trudging…I mean swimming…through the mucky black hole of a lake, I had the pleasure of going over to the course instructor and watching him casually toss a fifteen pound weight into the lake. We would all watch from the sidelines as the weight flew into the air and quickly descended into the water causing a tremendous splash. As we continued to watch, the weight plunged deep into the bowels of the dirty, filthy lake below. We stared at the lake still able to see the rippled path the weight took as it plunged to the bottom. “Arcieri, you’re up,” yelled the instructor. It was my turn to swim to the bottom and bring up the heavy weight that he would make me use to tread water with while reciting definitions from the day before. If you didn’t know the definitions or it slipped your mind, you would be treading water for a while. This was just the warm up that was done three times a day after breakfast, lunch and dinner. After these warm ups, we would practice saves. This meant we were in and out of the water constantly all day long. This was a pain because the dock was three feet higher than the water and our instructor said that the ladder that was there to assist swimmers was simply off limits to anyone training to be a lifeguard.
We learned many very important saves during the week and you never know when someone truly in danger could be on the other side of the rescue tube. Although these saves are important, lifeguards aren’t just trained to make saves. We also need to know CPR and First Aid and though I was already certified in these areas, I was told that it wouldn’t hurt to learn it again.
Early in the week while myself and the other scouts were discussing what we would do to fill our evenings at camp for the week, we learned that we would get to spend three hours every other night of summer camp in a hut hotter than a sauna relearning CPR and First Aid, both of which I thought I had already mastered and the certificates to prove it were at home in my desk drawer gathering dust! We would be on our knees for half the time during these nights trying to bring a “dummy” back to life. My days were filled with mucky lakes and my nights filled with steamy huts and dummies.
When the glorious week finally came to an end, we took the dreaded lifeguard test. On the final day of camp, I was handed the piece of paper I had waited for that whole long week of summer camp, the piece of paper that kept me going throughout the whole course. It was my BSA Lifeguard Certification. I looked down at it and I suddenly realized how hard I had worked over the past week for this certification and the possibilities that could come along with it. I felt a very proud sense of accomplishment after that long week which suddenly had a very clear purpose.
That summer when I returned from Boy Scout camp, I applied for and got a lifeguard job near my summer house on the North Fork because of my hard earned BSA Lifeguard Certificate from that long, hot week at the lake at Boy Scout camp. I looked forward to the following summer and my new job as a lifeguard.
Fast forward to September of my senior year in high school. I wake up in total disgust wondering why my alarm clock is going off on a Saturday morning. Then I remember my job as a lifeguard, the only problem is that I don’t work at a pool nearby. I work all the way out in Greenport at a motel on the Long Island Sound where my summerhouse is. Since school had started again, my summer house is a distant memory and I am at my home in East Williston, 75 miles from the pool I needed to be at and only half awake and in deep need of caffeine. I remember I am still on the schedule for another few weeks after Labor Day. I shower and jump in the car. I’ve got to get to work by 9:00am to open up the pool. Being early September, not too many people were lining up at the Sound View Inn to jump in the pool at 9am!
By 1:00pm I was bored with no swimmers by the pool. I picked up my phone and put some music on. Suddenly I heard a lot of yelling in the distance so I walked over to the pool entrance to see if I was going to get any brave souls thinking of jumping in the pool. No one was there so I sat down and relaxed. Within seconds, the pool phone rang. I answered as the motel owner screamed into the phone that someone was drowning in the Long Island Sound where there’s no lifeguard on duty. Suddenly my adrenaline hit me like a ton of bricks. I ran out of the pool and onto the beach where I saw a man in his forties struggling for his life. He was about 15 feet out, but it felt like it took me forever to swim out to him. As he struggled, I took him by the shoulders and brought him onto shore and safety.
His wife, kids, motel guests and the owner crowded around me slapping me on the back shouting lots of praises. As I walked back to the pool, I realized how short life is. How my long drive this morning seemed like such a big deal when really it was nothing compared to what I accomplished with my day.
As I proudly sat on my lifeguard chair at a motel on the North Fork of Long Island overlooking the scenic Long Island Sound, I thought back to that mucky, black lake where my journey first began. It was then that I realized that my decision made at the beginning of summer camp last summer was the right one.