For many years, while I was working on and off for Disney, I was also working as a lifeguard in Arizona.
It was a job I enjoyed as much as working for the mouse. Through my manager at the pool I worked at, I was offered to be the Lifeguard Coordinator for the Ironman triathlon in Tempe.
Usually, when I would talk about it to others, they thought I was talking about Tony Stark.
An Ironman Triathlon is a race consisting of a 2.4-mile (3.86 km) swim, a 112-mile (180.25 km) bicycle ride and a marathon 26.22-mile (42.20 km) run, raced in that order. It is widely considered one of the most difficult one-day sporting events in the world. People who complete it are recognized as “Ironmen/women”.
Most Ironman events have a limited time of 16 or 17 hours to complete the race, course dependent. The race typically starts at 7:00am; the mandatory swim cut off is 2 hours 20 minutes after the last swimmer is in the water.
The name “Ironman Triathlon” is also associated with the original Ironman triathlon in 1978, which is now the Ironman World Championship. Now, there are over three dozen Ironman Triathlon races throughout the world that enable qualification for the Ironman World Championships.
Professional athletes qualify for the championship through a point ranking system, where points are earned based on their final placement in either the half or full Ironman events. The top 50 male and top 35 female professionals in points qualify for the championship. Amateur athletes qualify for the championship by receiving slots allocated to each age group’s top finishers in a qualifying event.
To be honest, in the months leading up to each race, I was always insanely stressed, constantly searching for enough certified lifeguard volunteers for the thousands of athletes that will be in the water on race day. Mostly because I was in college 4/6 years and one year I managed to do it while I was lifeguarding on a cruise ship.
On race day, I was so focused on my guards on the water, I didn’t do much else in those hours until we got the all clear. As much as I would love to have more photos or video of that time in my life, I was so amped up on what was happening on the water, doing anything else would have taken away from that.
Even though I’ve been a lifeguard for all of my adult life, I’ve never been a very active person. When I would watch those athletes in the water, I would be absolutely amazed. For example, in 2016, Jan Frodeno broke the record with a finishing time of 7:35:39 & in 2011, Chrissie Wellington did it in 8:18:13. Imagine swimming, biking and running for collectively 140.2 miles in 8 hours. It takes immense dedication to prepare for an Ironman.
Same goes for the lifeguards watching the water. Some of the volunteers were either participants themselves or were volunteering so that they could sign up early for next year’s race. Getting to know them in the time leading up to the race was so fun because they came from all walks of life.
Watching them cheer on the athletes in the last few minutes before the swim cut off was always emotional for me. I hated having to pull people out of the water. It just breaks your heart. The adrenaline on race weekend is off the charts and by the end of the race, I’m already hyped for the next year.
Thankfully, in all the years I was Captain, there was never a major incident. My first year was the last year the athletes would all start in the water, at once. That year we had a few kicks to the face, some broken noses, but nothing life threatening. There was also the occasional abandoned wetsuit that would look like a floater.
+9 races, both 70.3 & the full 40.2, I moved to Washington and had to give it up. As of writing this, the 2018 IMAZ was the last time I guarded water and I’m very nostalgic for it, obviously. After being certified in multiple different programs and levels, for almost 10 years, it’s the longest I’ve gone without it.
TLDR; I was the Lifeguard Coordinator for Ironman Arizona & it was great.
Thanks for reading & Drink more water