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    On the last day of June, a Friday, splashing and jumping children ripple the water at the Algonquin Park pool in west Louisville. Fat, white clouds suspend in a blue sky the same color as the water. Two community centers’ worth of kids crowd the pool’s three-foot shallow end, roped off with black buoys. Lifeguards hover at the edges, geared in sleeveless red T-shirts that say STAFF. Sharp whistles sound as rowdy kids speed past the NO RUNNING warning stenciled just beyond the lip of the pool. Screams and cheers rise into muffled chaos. A security guard in a camouflage flak jacket sits at a picnic table by the changing rooms, looking at his phone.

    “This is my first time ever doing this,” says 18-year-old lifeguard Countess Williams, who recently graduated from Pleasure Ridge Park High School. Out of the prerequisite skills — including swimming continuously for 300 yards, treading water for two minutes without using your hands and getting out of the pool without a ladder — Williams says the most difficult was swimming to the bottom of the 10-foot deep end to retrieve a 10-pound block, then carrying it to the shallow end while holding it in both hands.

    Louisville Metro Parks has four community pools maintained by the Mary T. Meagher Aquatic Center, each open six days week and about six hours a day. At the start of the summer, Louisville Metro Parks didn’t have enough staff to fill the state-mandated quota of one lifeguard for every 2,000 square feet, meaning more than seven active lifeguards at all times at Algonquin. The week before Memorial Day, Metro Parks director Seve Ghose told the Metro Council that lifeguards didn’t want to work in the West End, where there have been alarming numbers of shootings and homicides. Last year, firework debris and broken glass in the Algonquin pool caused $10,000 worth of damage and forced the pool to close for a week so it could be drained and the filters could be replaced. To lure more lifeguards for this year’s season (June 3 through July 29), the city waived the $200 training fee for any lifeguard willing to work solely at Algonquin. Wages start at $10 an hour.

    “At first there was (hesitation) because of all the violence that’s been going on, but I was like, ‘Hey, you want to help the community,’” Williams says. “Not too much goes on. You have some kids that don’t listen, but other than that, it’s fine.”

    On this day, two school buses flank the parking lot just beyond the fenced-in waters. Every Friday, Shelby Park Community Center hauls a busload of kids here. The counselors wear Metro Parks shirts and have constructed a fort of towels and floats in the corner by the changing rooms. The director, trunks dripping, says that, if the pool hadn’t opened, nearby splash parks — concrete pads with oversized sprinkler systems — would have been the only option.

    “I’d do it again,” Williams says of lifeguarding. “It’s not even like work. You get to swim. It’s just fun.”

    This originally appeared in the August 2017 issue of Louisville Magazine. To subscribe to Louisville Magazine, click here. To find your very own copy of Louisville Magazine, click here. 

    Cover Photo: Pexels

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    About Jennifer Kiefer

    Germantown transplant. Louisville native.

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