Texas swimming center lifeguards talk about life on the stand

Rachel Wenzlaff

Texas swimming center lifeguard Hannah Lerner has never taken an official swimming lesson in her life — but the exercise-science freshman and her co-workers are tasked with protecting the world-class swimmers at the Lee & Joe Jamail Texas Swimming Center.

Most of the athletes who swim and dive under Lerner’s watchful gaze are part of the 11-time NCAA National Champion Texas men’s swimming and diving team or the nine-time champion women’s team. Professional swimmers and Olympians also use the facility.

Lerner said it’s easy to feel unnecessary on the stand.

“They’re probably like, ‘You can go home,’” Lerner said.

So what do they do?

“At my old pool, it’s mostly kids, so a lot of it is, ‘Hey don’t push them in, stop running, don’t throw rocks at that bees’ nest,’” said lifeguard Liam Lockwood, who is also on the men’s swimming team. “But here at the swim center, all the groups are organized and here to do training.”

Lifeguarding at the TSC is by no means the sexy or exciting job that it is in movies. Guards spend much of their time setting up for meets, moving lane lines, scrubbing deck mats and wiping down appliances.

“Some people call us the pool janitors,” Lerner said.

Lerner, Lockwood and Casey Shomaker, head lifeguard and biochemistry senior,  have never had to save someone from the pool at the TSC. Shomaker says that although they have been fortunate to never have an emergency, there’s always the chance that something could go wrong — especially at practice.

In practice, teams and athletes often do hypoxic, or breath-control, training. The exercise usually requires athletes to limit their breathing during strokes, which can potentially cause athletes to pass out. But the most dangerous culprit is the diving board.

“Off the 10-meter, smacking is equivalent to hitting concrete,” Shomaker said.

Most of the time, it’s not a smack against the water but a smack into the board that sparks a response from the guards.

Lockwood, who tries to avoid the awkward moments when he has to watch over his teammates, remembers being off-duty at a college meet where he heard a deafening bang.

“I was like, ‘Did some sort of machinery explode or something?’” Lockwood said. “I turned around and saw the board was way in the air, and I was like, ‘Oh crap. Somebody hit the board really, really hard.’”

But before Lockwood had even finished turning around, his on duty co-workers had already jumped off their stands to respond.

“It was cool to see them respond so fast,” Lockwood said. “It made me really proud.”

Although active response situations are rare and sitting on a stand watching people swim back and forth can be dull, the lifeguards have their fair share of excitement.

“Michael Phelps was just here a few weeks ago,” Lerner said. “He was standing by the lifeguard stand for a long time, and I was just like this is so cool.”