The newest class of Town of Hempstead lifeguards was honored at a graduation ceremony at Lido Beach on July 11. Town Supervisor Laura Gillen, a former lifeguard herself, distributed golden whistles to the graduates, including Grace Hernon and Connor Desmond of Merrick and Bellmore, respectively.
“I’m so happy that I did it,” said Hernon, a junior at Molloy College studying nursing. Hernon comes from a family of male lifeguards, and she is the first female in her family to advance past the initial training, she said.
“I’ve learned to always be careful and to respect the ocean,” Desmond said. Growing up with a fatherwho owned a pool company and serviced public pools, Desmond said he has always been around lifeguards, which influenced him to get through the program. He will be a lifeguard for the summer until he returns to John F. Kennedy High School in the fall.
Lifeguard training tests the candidates’ physical and mental endurance. For two weeks, the rookies ran multiple miles, took on jetty swims and various workouts, and swam over 400 meters per day. They also practiced rescues and emergency procedures to prepare for potential drowning victims.
The training is physically demanding enough that one in four recruits never finish the process.
“The training guarantees that we find lifeguards that both want the job, since they got through the demanding training, and know that it’s a serious job,” Gillen said. “They’ve learned the importance of their serious work and can now keep others safe.”
“It’s a mental game,” Hernon said. “It’s about never being pushed so hard and never giving up. It shows you how to push through. We’re prepared for the responsibility of protecting people’s lives.”
The lifeguards also prepare for the potentially dangerous conditions on the beach, including heat waves, rip currents, shore breaks and sharks.
The approximately 560 lifeguards in the Town of Hempstead perform thousands of rescues every summer. Over the July Fourth weekend, over 200 saves were made.
The new class of lifeguards will now staff the 23 pools and 11 beaches that are publicly available in the town.
Gillen noted that although there has been a shortage of lifeguards in the region and around the country, she is proud that the town is able to accept more graduates. Their golden whistles symbolize their accomplishment in making it into the lifeguard workforce.
“The graduates should be proud of themselves,” Gillen said. “They’re now part of an elite core of lifeguards.”