Garth Greer, Neptune Middle School, Special Education Math Teacher
I enjoy my job as a teacher of special needs students, and I am also an Ocean Grove Beach Patrol lifeguard. Back when I was a new lifeguard, one day there definitely were some rip currents with the sandbars. And there was just one area that these people just kept getting sucked into over and over again. Being new on the stand at that time, I was kind of hesitant; like, should I go in, or should I wait for somebody to tell me to go in? I finally decided to go in, and I started making some rescues. With the first couple of rescues, my training and instinct kicked in. And now, with the newer lifeguards I share my experience with them while I am sitting on the stand with them. I will say things like, ‘Hey, do you think that’s a rip current over there?’ Things like that to train them on their observation skills.
Being a special education teacher has really benefited me in lifeguarding at Ocean Grove Beach Patrol. There’s a growing hope from parents and families that lifeguards will be more aware of people with special needs on the beach and in the water, and how to approach them. This summer particularly, there were several instances where parents or grandparents would come up to us and just make us aware that their child or grandchild or whomever, has special needs, or that their child is autistic. That information informs us as to how to approach that child. They may get scared if we were to start blowing a whistle at them if they swam too far out or away from the flags. So, we will simply go over to them and just talk to them and let them know we need them to get closer to our stand. It also helped us to keep a closer eye on them, to make sure they are safe.
And when I am working with the younger lifeguards, I am able to give them some knowledge about how to approach certain situations like that. So like, I definitely won’t blow the whistle from the stand or go down to the water’s edge and blow the whistle. I’d just swim out and I’d have the torp with me, just so they knew I was a lifeguard, and I would try to have a conversation with the person. I would say something like, ‘Your mom, your dad is over there, and they just asked me to go out and help you move over this way, closer to them and the stand.’ I would just build trust with them.
It’s kind of funny. With the Ocean Grove Beach Patrol we have our end of the year party in August. And we always have different awards that are given out at the party. One award that I won this year was the Mr. Rogers Award. That was great. I enjoy being there and teaching the younger lifeguards what I know and have learned and experienced in my 7 years as a lifeguard. We have a very tight knit community; it honestly feels like a family. Unfortunately, we do not get to see each other all year round, but when we are back together again on the beach it’s very special.
Interview by Gregory Andrus