A 63-Year-Old Lifeguard

Jul 8, 2018
Originally published on July 8, 2018 9:07 am
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LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

This year's summer weather is broiling. And if you're off to the beach or pool to cool off, you might notice a different type of lifeguard on watch - seniors. And we're not talking about the high school variety. Lifeguarding is traditionally a teen job, but more and more retirees are getting in on the action. This includes Bill Bower. He's 63. This is his second season as a lifeguard at Stewart Beach in Galveston, Texas. And we caught him just before his shift started. Thanks for joining us.

BILL BOWER: Glad to be here, Lulu. Thanks for having me.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So you're speaking to us from the beach, and I must say I'm jealous. How does it look out there?

BOWER: It looks beautiful. There's dozens of pelicans floating out in front of us, and we're expecting the dolphins to come by any minute.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Take me there. Take me with you. What did you do before you started lifeguarding?

BOWER: I was a math teacher, school administrator at The Kiski School in Saltsburg, Penn..

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So what pushed you to try this out?

BOWER: Well, I retired a little early at age 59, then I moved down to Galveston. And I was just relaxing on the beach, reading books, things like that. But I started to get a little bit bored. And I was looking for something to get involved in. I began with a group called The Wave Watchers. It's a citizen's group that helps lifeguards out. But quickly I got to know the people in the Galveston Beach Patrol, and I thought, that's a group I'd really like to be part of. And the rest is history.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Some of the physical requirements are pretty intense. You have to swim 500 meters in 10 minutes or less and other things. Were you nervous?

BOWER: I was very nervous when I showed up because it was all high school and college kids about one-fourth of my age to one-third of my age. And I had been swimming for a few months to try to get in shape, but I didn't know how I would stack up against them. Well, when we had the tryouts, I ended up being the fastest person.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Congratulations.

BOWER: Thank you. So that immediately gave me my street cred with the kids. So right away they knew that I was somebody that was really serious about being a lifeguard.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So this does seem to be a trend across the country to hire more lifeguards in your age range. What do you think's going on?

BOWER: Well, there's a few things happening. One is that older Americans are staying in shaped more and we're seeing a lot more active. And the other thing is of course the shrinking applicant pool for the younger lifeguards. It seems like more young people are not working in the summers like they used to.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I have to ask you, do you get any strange reactions from the public when they see you're a lifeguard and so used to sort of seeing teenagers?

BOWER: I get lots of strange reactions - you know, the double take. If I'm running by into the water of course they're all yelling "Baywatch." But they'll come up and talk to me, and everybody's amazed, and they all try to guess my age. And thankfully they all guess too low.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yeah, we spoke to Chief Peter Davis, your boss, and he says you've become quite a confidant to your younger peers. Your co-workers are 16 and 17 years old. What's that dynamic like?

BOWER: You know, it was something that I was really afraid of when I started. I thought, oh, I was going to be the, you know, the creepy old guy that was trying to get in the group. But it wasn't like that at all. They immediately accepted me. They include me in all of their activities, you know. Are you coming to the football game this weekend? Those kinds of things. But it's been a great journey, and it's been very exciting.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Well, have a great summer. That's lifeguard Bill Bower in Galveston, Texas. Thank you so much.

BOWER: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.