My name is Nancy Hodges and I lifeguard with the Virginia Beach Lifesaving Service in Virginia Beach, VA. This will be my 14th year lifeguarding.

Q: What inspired you to become a lifeguard?

A: I got into lifeguarding years ago when my son, who was a teenager, started lifeguarding and I had always wanted to be a lifeguard at the beach when I was a teenager. At that time, things were really different. Young ladies were not allowed to lifeguard. I had to work at a pool and waitressed during the summer. Quite frankly, even if women were allowed to lifeguard, my parents would not have allowed me to do it because they were very conservative and said it was something that girls didn’t do. So I always went, “I wish I could have done that.” I encouraged my son to get involved and they would have local competitions and national competitions. I would go down and watch. I thought, “you know what? I think I can do that!” I spoke to Tom Gill and he told me when tryouts were being held and he told me to come on out and see what I can do. So, I did and I passed the test. I did all the training and I started working on a part-time basis. I also own a pilates studio so I can’t work on the beach 4-5 days a week. I will usually work a couple of regular days out of the week and a couple afternoon shifts. It gives me a chance to be out there. Our service here locally is so wonderful in accommodating me. I started doing this 14 years ago and I love it. It is the best job in the world.

Q: As a lifeguard, did you face any specific difficulties as a woman in the field?

A: No, I did not really have anything that I would consider gender specific. There are often times people on the beach that are unpleasant, a little bit difficult or challenging, non-compliant, or don’t want to listen to you. I have started lifeguarding at a much older age. I was 3x the age of the kids that were starting when they were 16. Now I’m about 4x their age. I think because I was so much older, I had a little bit more experience in dealing with people, then it was probably a little bit easier for me. Sometimes it takes some of the younger guards, whether they’re male or female, a bit of confidence. Lifeguarding definitely builds confidence. You are in charge of all of these people and are responsible for their safety. If you can’t handle something, you take it to your supervisor. I don’t feel like, as a woman, I’ve ever been discriminated against. I’ve never been told, “You can’t do this! You can’t do that!” I think the ladies that work with us now are some of the best lifeguards we have. Everybody’s strengths are different. Some people are better swimmers and some people are better runners. At the end of the day, we all go out and lifeguard in teams. We don’t go in by ourselves. The runner gets there before the faster swimmer but the faster swimmer is going to be more helpful in getting the person into shore. They are really strong and can get people out of the beach. It all kind of works together.

Q: What are your standout lifesaving experiences?

A: There are some rescues that are more memorable than others. There’s one thing that starts to come to my mind. I had one experience 2-3 years into lifeguarding. I was working an afternoon shift which starts at 6:00 PM and would go to about 8:45PM or 9:00PM. In the afternoon shift, we are placed anywhere from 2 stands to 4 stands apart. On a regular day, we have a guard on each block. So, at night you have to watch a lot more water. I saw a gentleman who looked like he was not doing well and kind of heading out in a rip current. I called out, “Rescue 24, Rescue 24.” Usually when we call a rescue, our adjacent will come too. In a normal scenario, I would have had a guard on my right and a guard on my left and they would have come in and helped me. I get out to this gentleman and I think, “where is all my help?” No one showed up and I thought, “gosh, what is going on?”

It took a while but I got this guy in safely. Our captain, Tom Gill, happened to be right there close by because the guards were having a social that evening on 24th street. They were going to play ultimate frisbee. Gill was watching me and making sure I was fine. I got back in and I said, “Tom, where was everyone?” He said, “Nancy we are closing the water. Every guard on the beach is in on a rescue right now.” All of a sudden, the conditions changed, which can happen on the beach. I don’t remember if we had a storm tat had torn up the bottom of the ocean but we had so many rip currents and people getting pulled out. Once we got everybody back to the beach, our job was to keep everybody out of the water for the rest of the evening. That is an evening that I definitely remember. I have never had that before where every guard on the beach was in on a rescue. We were happy everybody came back safely and we didn’t lose anyone. All our guards were safe.

Images provided by Nancy Hodges.