TV shows and movies have long glamorized life-guarding. And to outsiders, it may seem a glamorous profession. But just ask any lifeguard at Noah's Ark Waterpark about their job and they'll give you the lowdown on the training, credentials, fortitude and focus required. Just don't ask them when they're on duty, because their attention will be on one thing and one thing alone - the people in the pool.
At 70 acres and 49 water slides, Noah's Ark is America's largest outdoor water park, and heading up the cadre of 240 lifeguards there is Shelly Rucinski. Rucinski's official title is Director of Operations, and her credentials are impressive -- an undergraduate degree in Recreation Management, a Master's degree in Rehabilitative Psychology, and 20+ years at this particular water park. She is high energy and conscientious. And after only a few minutes of watching her interact with her staff, it's easy to see she's also well-respected. Rucinski is quick to tell you water park safety is complex and it takes a pro to pick up clues to ensure swimmers are safe. Each lifeguard goes through Noah's Ark rigorous training program and all are certified.
Rucinski takes us to the Big Kahuna wave pool, the most demanding pool at the park where specially trained "deep guards" are on duty. She explains that, in the course of one shift, a lifeguard will rotate between 12 different spots around the perimeter of the pool. The guards are cued in like watchdogs, ready to make split-second decisions to jump in. Guards like Mark Schmitz, a first-year lifeguard at Noah's Ark with a degree in Recreation Management. And second-year lifeguard Ali Maassen, a junior in college who likes to swim outside work whether it's a pool, lake or ocean. During their break, they explain the focus it takes to watch the water for every nuance. When they blow their whistle to enforce the rules, they mean business.
Schmitz and Maassen are both back this summer, under the tutelage of Rucinski. Say hello if you see them. (Just not when they're patrolling the pool.)