Lifeguards in training Eugene Rec's annual hiring process for its pools provides skills useful beyond the water

Ben Schorzman | Content Coordinator, City of Eugene Recreation

The summer of 2016 was a busy one for the Eugene Rec's three pools.

Once the temperature climbed high enough, people flocked to Amazon, Echo Hollow and Sheldon pools by the thousands — 148,787 to be exact. With the daily number of patrons passing through the doors at 1,617, each facility has to be fully prepared.

There's a big need for temporary staff to keep everyone safe, and spring is the time Eugene Rec managers begin culling and training a new class of lifeguards to patrol the pools.

But before they can sit in the chair during a busy summer day at Amazon Pool, potential lifeguards must go through a rigorous training process in a program that goes above and beyond. It's tailored to the City and produces guards that aren't just ready to save lives but also to exceed in their own careers.

"All these skills are so much more and so far beyond what lifeguarding is about," Recreation Program Supervisor Robbie Guthrie says. "That's absolutely why I like this work and why I'm drawn to it."

The 2017 Summer Rec Guide is now available at

'A big machine'

Amazon Pool's spacious deck and amenities make it a big draw during the summer for people who are trying to cool off when the temperature soars above 90 degrees. The traffic means Eugene Rec has to be prepared with enough employees. The temporary staff for aquatics swells to 150 during the summer. Last year Eugene Rec hired 51 new lifeguards and will do about the same this spring.

Most of the new guards end up at Amazon Pool, where anywhere from 22 to 30 could be on shift at one time.

"It's a big machine," says Guthrie, who's been with Eugene Rec since 2000. He started out as a lifeguard instructor and has been helping hire new classes of lifeguards for 11 years.

Ken Kenly currently leads the annual lifeguard training classes and helps Guthrie in the hiring process. He began his career with Eugene Rec as a lifeguard and has quickly moved up the ranks in his five years on the job. He says the busy summer months take a lot of work.

Recreation Program Assistant Ken Kenly
"It takes professionalism. It takes commitment by our guards, and it takes flexibility with our staff."
A girl does a backflip off a springboard at Amazon Pool during a hot August day.

Training fit for the City

Eugene Rec's lifeguard training season opens with an intensive five-day class during spring break. Three instructors teach a class of 30 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., leading them through the skills they need to earn certifications in life guarding/first aid/CPR/AED, oxygen administration and preventing disease transmission. By the end of the week potential lifeguards will have taken three written exams and three skills tests.

"That one is crazy," Guthrie says. "That is always a packed class. ... It's an intensive course. They have to be prepared."

For those wanting to become lifeguards but who missed the spring break class, Eugene Rec also has two other opportunities every spring. The second class is over two weekends in mid-April and the third is an evening class that runs 4-8 p.m Monday through Saturday from May 8-19.

Lifeguard trainees wait for their turn during a pool session over spring break

Guthrie, Kenly and the rest of the aquatics staff take pride in their training. The training Eugene Rec gives its lifeguards is self-sufficient, meaning it can provide every certification a new lifeguard needs to work with the City. Trainers can tailor and adapt the basics Red Cross training to fit to City standards and culture.

"We found it was much more efficient and reliable to provide all the training in house," Guthrie says. "We're directly invested in their level of skills and competency."

That investment shows.

A student's notes from CPR training

"I love it," Kenly says. "Classes are by far my favorite part of the whole season. I love working with the kids. I love watching them grow and it's a great pleasure for me to be able to train them. ... For a lot of them this is their first job and we're giving them skills to go on with their lives and life goals.

"I'm super excited to be a small part of that."

Aquatics staff have taken other steps to customize the training process and groom potential lifeguards. Eugene Rec offers junior lifeguarding and swim instructor courses during the summer where kids from the ages of 12 to 15 can get a head start on working at the pools. The junior lifeguarding course allows participants to assist and train with current lifeguards. Both classes are essentially job shadow opportunities for high school students who are interested.

"We have such a breadth of experiences as aquatics professionals and service providers, and we took things a step beyond," Guthrie says.

Scenes from the spring break lifeguard training at Echo Hollow Pool.

Teaching life skills beyond the pool

Guthrie has been with Eugene Rec long enough now that he’s seeing young adults to whom he taught swim lessons now go through the lifeguarding ranks. While he says it’s odd to think about, it’s also a rewarding experience to see kids who started out as 4-year-old swimming newbies complete the cycle of becoming a guard.

An assistant swim coach at Sheldon in his spare time, Guthrie says his experiences with high school and college youth at the pool are what keep his job fun.

“That’s probably the biggest reason I’m here,” Guthrie says. “All of that is fantastic. Anything that gives me the opportunity to interact with them is great.”

Kenly says he’s similarly rewarded in his trainings. He says working with the new lifeguards to add crucial life-saving skills is absolutely an important thing for him. One person teaches a group of new guards, who in turn affect hundreds of people during the course of a summer.

“It’s kind of a tree,” Kenly says, “a blossoming tree going out within the city, within the state.”

Stephanie Poh took part in the latest spring break lifeguard training class at Echo Hollow and embodies the typical recruit Eugene Rec sees. Most potential lifeguards already have a relationship with the pools they want to patrol. For Poh, it comes from playing water polo and swimming with the South Eugene team. She didn’t spend a lot of time at the pool before joining the two teams, but since then she has enjoyed being a part of a team and wants to work in a similar environment.

“I really enjoy hanging at the pool and spending time at the pool,” Poh, 17, says. “And I know having the lifeguards there is what makes it possible, and I wanted to be a part of that for other people.”

Lifeguard trainee Stephanie Poh listens to an instructor during a classroom session at Echo Hollow Pool.

Kenly and Guthrie believe strongly the skills learned through training to become a lifeguard will help the people coming through the program in many ways. They like to see what they’re teaching as applicable life skills beyond the water because for many of the high school kids especially, lifeguarding is their first job. They’re teaching them what it’s like to have a job and to have responsibility. How to communicate and how to work in a busy work place.

Others enter thinking they’re just doing it for a summer job. By the end of their tenure they’ve found a career choice. Guthrie says it’s common to see former guards become paramedics, nurses or other types of first responders.

“They come on with us as a 15-year-old and not having a clue to identifying a path,” Guthrie says.

Kenly says lifeguarding is a resume builder.

“It’s humbling that I can be a part of that and part of their career and eventual life choices.”

A swim instructor smiles while encouraging a student to jump into the water at Amazon Pool.

Of course, in the day-in, day-out mad dash that summer can be at Amazon Pool, no one is thinking about anything other than having enough guards on duty to support the rush. But when Guthrie takes a step back and thinks about his 17 years at the City, he can appreciate how many lifeguards he’s helped train and hire and how many have continued to save lives after leaving Eugene.

“It’s kind of neat to see the kids discover their love for something just by getting into the water,” he says.

Poh has yet to experience the busy summer schedule at Eugene’s three City-owned pools. But she’s found a group that she knows will help her through.

“I’m a big advocate of community,” she says, “and being at the pool — of course I don’t know everybody there — but I feel like we’re all there having fun and we’re all part of one big group.

“You have to work together to solve the problem and save a life, potentially.”

Photos and video by Ben Schorzman


Ben Schorzman/Eugene Rec

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