Lifeguard rescues struggling swimmer

Trevor Powell has worked as a lifeguard for more than a year and, until last weekend, has not once had to jump into the water after a person. But that all changed on July 12, during a beautiful, 80-degree day at Groveland Beach.

At some time between 3 and 4 p.m., Powell, perched in his lifeguard chair on Groveland’s main dock, noticed a teenage boy struggling in the enclosed swimming section, he said. After a few of the boy’s friends called for help, Powell dove into the water and swam to the teenager.

“I told him I was going to help him and not to fight me,” the 18-year-old lifeguard said. “He understood. I pulled him in [to the shore] far enough where he could stand.”

While Powell pulled the young man to shore, his fellow lifeguard, Margaret Ortblad, blew the safety whistle and warned swimmers to clear the area.

“The whole beach went pretty quiet,” Powell said, adding that it was a “fairly busy” afternoon with about 30 to 40 people.

According to Powell, the swimmer looked as though he was beginning to cramp up in the water. “He started showing the signs of a distressed swimmer,” the MIHS graduate said. “His head kept going under water, up and down. It was easy to see that something was wrong.”

After Powell verified that the swimmer was OK, he assisted him to shore where he could recover.

“He said thanks, went up to the beach and stretched his legs because they had cramped up,” the lifeguard said.

All lifeguards on Mercer Island must be Red Cross certified before they can work, said Dannie Wit, aquatics and outdoor recreation coordinator for Parks and Recreation. In addition, the lifeguards practice safety exercises before each shift and train biweekly with the entire Island staff.

After hearing of the Groveland incident — the first lifeguard rescue on the Island this year — Wit called Powell to personally commend him.

“He responded how he was trained to respond. He did really well,” she said.

Powell said he felt a surge of adrenaline during the rescue, which lasted some 30 minutes afterward.

The swimmer, whose name has been withheld for privacy reasons, was “pretty skinny” and easy to drag to shore, Powell said, estimating that the distance was about 10 feet.

Overall, the Groveland head lifeguard said the rescue went “pretty smoothly.” It was the closest that Powell, who works at Groveland five days a week, has come to an emergency situation. “I’ve been pretty fortunate. This is the first time I’ve ever had to get into the water,” he said. “It reminded me why we train so hard.”

Over the school year, Powell worked at the Jewish Community Center and Bellevue Athletic Club indoor pools. Reflecting on last weekend’s event, Powell said that the experience has emboldened him as a lifeguard.

“I’m more cautious now. It was a really good wake-up call,” he said. “It’s nice to know, coming out here every day, that we actually do something. We do help people.”

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