When Robin Borlandoe heard Philadelphia was experiencing a lifeguard shortage and desperately seeking new recruits, she didn’t hesitate to sign up.
The 70-year-old, who was a lifeguard when she was 16 and is retired from a career in health care, was interested last summer but took some time to prepare for the lifeguard exam, which included treading water, swimming laps and retrieving a brick from the bottom of a pool.
After a few months of training and a few attempts at the exam, Borlandoe earned her red swimsuit and whistle.
So now, five days a week, she slathers on sunscreen and heads to the public pool, where she settles into the lifeguard chair. She earns about $17 per hour and so far hasn’t had to jump in and make any saves.
However, Borlandoe’s new job is helping to ease the lifeguard shortage that’s plaguing both Philadelphia and the nation. Only 50 of Philadelphia’s 65 public pools were open by mid-July due to the shortage, according to NBC News. Nationally, a third of pools reduced hours or closed due to the lack of lifeguards, according to the American Lifeguard Association.
When pools are closed, children miss out on a safe place to gather, play and cool off, Borlandoe says. The mother of three and grandmother of six says she has discovered that the job is more than watching over the pool — it’s an opportunity to be a positive influence on the children in her community.
For example, Borlandoe noticed some children didn’t have proper swim attire, so she reached out to her network to collect bathing suits. She’s encouraging donations to the effort through the Philadelphia Parks & Recreation Department and the city’s Youth Sports Collaborative, which are working to collect and distribute new bathing suits, flip-flops, beach towels and other accessories for children.
She’s gotten a lot of attention for coming out of retirement to take on the lifeguarding job, but Borlandoe says she’s just happy to be active and to keep children safe at the pool.