Elizabeth Ramirez is a Chicagoan lifeguard with caring, hard working parents and two younger brothers. Growing up, she would always be found near bodies of water, which set a foundation for a new passion: swimming. In high school, she was able to join the varsity swim team for 4 years and eventually was team captain her senior year. She has also been on the soccer team, track/field team, and water polo team. During this time, she was able to train as a lifeguard while balancing school work. Elizabeth has worked 6 years as a lifeguard for the Chicago Park District-Beaches and Pools Unit. Although she has put a lot of time into this career, she is also currently working towards a Bachelor’s Degree in Imaging Technology at Resurrection University.
After first being exposed to the dedication and willpower it takes to be a lifeguard, Elizabeth has always pushed towards being a person for others to rely on for safety. Working on a beach was a high priority for her as she has been greatly influenced by such locations. In high school, Elizabeth joined an after-school lifeguard program which gave her the opportunity to work for the city. Her first two years stationed at public pools gave her good experience as a lifeguard, but the challenges she faced at the beginning, and enjoyed working through, soon faded. However, she would again be pushed to her limits as she was finally given the chance to work at a beach, where each aspect of being a lifeguard increased in difficulty.
Working as a lifeguard on the beach sounds like a dream to most people, but behind the scenes comes a lot of commitment and training. During junior year of high school, I knew I wanted to go into the medical field. Joining the lifeguard program was the first step of learning basic first aid, that of which any first responder should know. The lifeguarding service presented situations I knew I was going to have to show leadership abilities. I foresaw this as a problem since I grew up a shy person. During my first week of working, I had to get used to using my voice. Being loud, bold, and confident to enforce rules and teach kids how to swim.
Lifeguarding helped me out of my comfort zone, and I began to gain confidence that has helped me both keep the public safe and react quickly to serious situations.
Being a part of the lifeguarding service is like gaining another family, which was North Ave. Beach for me. You are sacrificing your summer to work with other people as a team. There are a lot of hot, hard working days. This makes the hours at sunset that much more rewarding as you sit with your second family and relax near the calming shore. Funnily enough, the beach family is what really pushes a lifeguard to their limits. We want to be the best beach on the lakefront, the ONLY beach on the lakefront. No one is allowed to slack. We have a reputation of being the best, and we want to keep it that way.
In Chicago, there are many beaches on the lakefront who we compete with to be the best. We compete in who is the safest, but we also try to see who is strongest and fastest. Summer time has us compete against all the beaches on the lakefront in 13 Guard game events. One event being the “10 man-10 mile.” A team of 10 lifeguards, from each beach, each would run a mile back and forth in competition with other lakefront lifeguards. The team with the fastest time scored points for the beach and bragging rights for the day. Each event had points needed to rack up to get our beach name on the Guard game trophy. Another event we had was the “4 man-4mile.” 4 lifeguards, from each beach, would row a mile and try to compete for the fastest time. Our lives are devoted to the beach. Waking up at 7 in the morning, to ending almost at 9:00 p.m., we practically call the sand our living room, the lake our backyard, and the shore our patio. No matter how many hours we did running around in crazy weather conditions, there is no other job that would take the place of being a lifeguard.
Working at the beach has its perks. There are many events people come to visit, but it is always during these times that an emergency situation happens. People who cannot swim are jumping off the concrete edges of
the beach, and some are paddle boarding out in very strong winds. Fairly high temperature days have people drinking on the beach, and someone passes out or children go missing. We try our best to keep everyone safe, so they can end the day without injury or trauma.
Advice I could give to future women lifeguards is to stay true to yourself, because many patrons that come visit the beaches will try to tell you how to do your job. When dealing with these people, you need to have patience and try not to escalate the situation. As long as you put in the work as much as your team, they will always have your back no matter the situation. At the end of the day, each of us are working as a single cog in a machine to keep the people safe, and the joys of summer rolling. Nothing more, nothing less.