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By Erin Coller
Fun days on the beach and saving lives—these are the first things that typically come to mind for anyone familiar with the San Diego Junior Lifeguard Foundation. However, the influence this organization has on San Diego and the individual lives of those involved has much more depth, impacting the youth of San Diego, in and out of the water.
Children from tots to teens are benefiting from the programs and services offered by San Diego Junior Lifeguard Foundation. Parents and toddlers have the opportunity to learn crucial life-saving water safety skills and develop a lifelong love of fun water recreational activity, with several workshops offered throughout the county each year. Countless children are supported through grants and swimming lessons. Local teenagers are gaining the skills and confidence needed to excel at the beach and beyond, even at the Olympics.
Thanks to the swim lessons and other programs provided by the San Diego Junior Lifeguard Foundation, local children from all areas and backgrounds have the opportunity to gain the skills needed to become a lifeguard one day. This is especially important for children who may not otherwise have the chance, resulting in a more diverse group within this esteemed and sought-after city profession.
“Waterproofing San Diego” one student at a time
One of the San Diego Junior Lifeguard Foundation’s widest reaching programs making a difference in the community is Waterproofing San Diego. This initiative’s goal is to provide a “waterproofing” approach for the youth of San Diego through aquatic education and drowning prevention.
Waterproofing San Diego includes aquatic education lectures, swim lessons, an aquatic experience at the ocean or a local pool, and the opportunity to enroll in the prestigious San Diego Junior Lifeguards program if they pass the swim test time. Through Waterproofing San Diego, third through sixth grade students across San Diego receive free water safety education in the classroom, as well as swim lessons. New pool swimmers are taken to the beach for a day through the Bridge to the Beach program, giving many participants their first visit to the beach with activities that mirror the Junior Lifeguard program, introducing youth to the ocean environment including recognition of rip currents and other key beach safety education.
Standout Junior Lifeguards on the beach and beyond
The teenage San Diego Junior Lifeguards participants spend long days on the beach each summer working on physical abilities, leadership, teamwork, initiative and commitment. In summer 2016, the annual graduation celebration saw two outstanding athletes recognized with the prestigious Honor Guard award.
The Honor Guard award has been a Lifeguard Academy tradition for the past 20 years, honoring junior lifeguards who demonstrate strong physical abilities, leadership, teamwork, initiative, and commitment. Every summer four exceptional junior lifeguards are selected, and this year 14-year-old La Jolla High School student Gina Spagarino, 15-year-old Patrick Henry High School student Sydney Fortune, 15-year-old Francis Parker School student Nick Gustafson, and 15-year-old Point Loma High School student Shad Bruce were recognized as Honor Guards.
Olympic track cyclist Jennifer Valente, a San Diego native, is among the many San Diego Junior Lifeguard participants who have used their leadership and athletic skills to excel beyond the beach. Valente participated in the San Diego Junior Lifeguard program with her two brothers for seven summers from 2004 to 2010. She earned a silver medal in the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro in the Women’s Team Pursuit Cycling Track, and has held the titles of Junior World Champion, Elite National Champion, Pan American Champion, Elite World Champion, and now, Olympic medalist.
There are many opportunities for involvement with the San Diego Junior Lifeguard Foundation, from donating and volunteering to participating in a drowning prevention program. Visit sdjgfoundation.org for more information.