This article appeared in the June 27, 2022 edition of the Monitor Daily.

Read 06/27 edition

Jumping back into the pool

Matt Rourke/AP/File
Children play at Kelly Pool in Philadelphia.

In what’s shaping up to be a hot summer, Robin Borlandoe has a plan: to spend it in a chair by the pool.

The lifeguard’s chair, that is.

It’s been 54 years since she last watched over young swimmers, whistle at the ready. But Ms. Borlandoe says she has good reason to get back in the water. Her native Philadelphia, like many other cities, reported that staffing shortages threatened to shutter numerous community pools that keep kids cool and active. Not to mention safe: One hundred eight children under 18 have been shot this year in the city.  

“[The violence] is crazy,” she says. “I wanted to do something – be a part of the solution.”

So she started training. On her first three laps in the pool, she had to stop six times. But she soon conquered the required 12, and nailed treading water for two minutes. Retrieving a 10-pound brick from the bottom of the pool was another matter. “When I said my prayers at night, I asked God to let me just keep this journey, and push on,” she says. “I took the [certification] test May 8, touched the brick, thanked Jesus, surfaced [with it], and carried it, hands above the water and swimming on my back, about 25 feet.”

Now the former hospital office manager sees a second career that will reach beyond lifeguarding. She says she can bring something positive for young people: “Be patient, be quiet, listen. ... There are so many experiences we can talk to them about to build them up.”

The kids return the favor, including her 17-year-old training partner. “I learned from young people – their confidence” in just trying something, says Ms. Borlandoe, a mother of three and grandmother of six. 

Ms. Borlandoe takes up her duties at Mill Creek Pool in southwest Philadelphia today. She is one reason 80% of the city’s public pools are opening, 70% of them in low-income communities. Sixteen guards are age 50 or older, up from 12 last year.

“A lot of older people are reaching out to me and saying, ‘You’re inspiring me.’ It makes me feel very good,” she says. So does the enthusiasm of her grandchildren, who are “over the top about me,” she laughs. ”I feel like I’m showing them that you can do anything if you put your mind to it.”

This article appeared in the June 27, 2022 edition of the Monitor Daily.

Read 06/27 edition
You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.