Meet A Gee-Gee

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Sarah Hebb | Competitive Lifeguarding

Maclaine Chadwick | Fulcrum Staff

Photo courtesy of Robyn Stevens 

“Meet a Gee-Gee” takes a look at the people under the jerseys. Whether they’re varsity athletes or otherwise, we ask the players questions you want answers to. We get the dirt, straight from the horse’s mouth.

MEET SARAH HEBB: fifth-year history student and president of the U of O’s competitive lifeguarding club. When it’s not beach season, she and the other competitive lifeguards compete against other schools in areas like first aid, swim relays, and priority assessment. There’s more to lifeguarding than tans and Ray-Bans, so read on to learn what it takes to compete in this unique sport.

The Fulcrum: What differentiates competitive lifeguarding from the lifeguards we see at the beach or pool? 

Sarah Hebb: Competitive lifeguards are constantly putting their skills and fitness to the test, making them better prepared and comfortable in emergency situations. While pool and beach guards have staff trainings once a month or once a semester, competitive guards are working together up to four times a week on their skills, and competing in four-person teams on a regular basis. We are used to the stresses of rescue situations and working as a team to respond in the midst of chaos and confusion to make everyone safe and treat their injuries.

What does a normal competition season look like for your club? 

Our competitions are all over Ontario—this past season we were at the University of Waterloo, at Queen’s in Kingston, at a municipal pool in Mississauga, at the University of Toronto, one competition here in Ottawa, and finally our championships at the University of Guelph. It’s a lot of time on the road but we get to know our teammates really well!

How does the U of O’s team fare compared to other schools at the competition? 

We do very well—we have won the Ontario University Lifeguard Championships for five consecutive years now, as well as the Ontario University League banner for total competition season points in 2011 and 2012. Our strongest competitor in the league is the University of Waterloo, who won the league banner this past year. They have a very large club with many strong members who keep us on our toes.

What is the biggest misconception about this sport? 

We get a lot of raised eyebrows when people hear it exists, that’s for sure! People wonder how it’s scored or what kind of events we do. One of our lifeguard alumni, Emily Verrault, represented Canada on the beach at the International Surf Rescue Challenge in 2011 and Rescue 2012. While lifesaving is all about the physical aspects of lifeguarding, just like in competitive lifeguarding it’s the only sport where you first learn skills to save lives and then use them in competition.

Can you debunk or confirm any stereotypes that readers may have about lifeguards? 

Well, those of us who work outside in the summertime sure do enjoy the tans we get, so call that one confirmed! People often think it’s a really simple thing to sit on a chair and watch people have fun and swim all day, but most don’t realize that we have to be constantly ready to react to an emergency with no advance notice. So you’re sitting there, and it’s warm and noisy, but you need to focus and be prepared for any eventuality the whole time. Constant vigilance on the job, a high level of physical fitness, and great skills make for an ideal lifeguard.

How would a student get involved with the club? 

Our main communication is through our Facebook group, the uOttawa Gee-Gees Lifeguard Team 2012-2013. We also have a club email, Every fall we have posters up around campus and the pool, and since many of our members also work at the Montpetit pool, you can always stop by the guard office in MNT 012 and ask for information there as well.

What is the fondest memory you have about being a part of this club? 

It would have to be winning this last championship and the club nominating me for the Golden Whistle award this year—what a way to finish off!

What is the best part about being a Gee-Gee? 

I was proud to be a Gee-Gee when I was a varsity athlete [Hebb was a member of the varsity swimming team], but never so proud as being a part of the guard team the past four years. The friendships and connections I made during this time, both with people here at this school and those we’ve competed against, have just been amazing.