Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Lifeguard Towers Turned into Art

I never really thought of lifeguarding and art occurring in the same sphere, but I apparently someone else did. A new project by international non-profit organization “Portraits of Hope” will combine a philanthropic purpose with community-based art in a very unexpected place: lifeguard towers. From May to October, all 155 beach lifeguard towers along the 30 miles of coastline in Los Angeles County will be covered with colorful art panels. These panels have been a work in progress for the last several months, with mostly children as the artists behind these beautiful creations. Since January, “Portraits of Hope” has been getting help from Southern California children at various hospitals, schools, and non-profit community events, like the Special Olympics, to paint the panels that will be installed for the summer. More recently, the project has been open to the public to come paint on Saturdays through May right here in Marina Del Rey.

“Portraits of Hope” is known for its massive public art projects around the world that usually are exhibited in unexpected, everyday locations. One of the most well-known of these projects by the organization was in 2007 when all the taxicabs in New York City were covered in flower paintings for the “Garden in Transit” mobile art project. In addition to fostering a sense of community and creativity that is visible on a large scale, these kinds of projects also benefit areas of the world that are in need. To emphasize their community-driven message, Portraits of Hope also does not accept any government funding and instead relies on corporate and community sponsors.

The Los Angeles County project is being called “Summer of Color” and will benefit the victims of the recent earthquake in Haiti. After the project is disassembled in October, the panels will be sent to Haiti to decorate hospitals and temporary housing for people displaced by the earthquake. All canvasses featured in “Summer of Color” have three themes, shapes, flowers, and the ocean, and each theme has a reason behind it: shapes for the children who shape the future, flowers for beauty, inspiration and healing, and the ocean for the environment.
After hearing about “Summer of Color”, I’m surprised that I didn’t know about it before, because it’s currently the largest public arts project in the country and it’s happening right in our own backyards. However, I was thrilled to hear about this organization and the kind of work it does, especially this project. The beaches in Los Angeles County are a major part of the scenery here and such a huge aspect of what makes LA so unique as a city. Because they are so visible to so many people and are such a landmark of LA County and its beaches, turning the lifeguard towers into public art on display for the entire summer is a fantastic idea, and it’s even better because it has a philanthropic cause behind it. I wish I had been more aware of this so that I could have participated.

As a lifeguard, the lifeguard tower is something that we use every day and seems maybe the most unlikely place to find art. To people swimming at the pool or beach, however, the tower is a visible presence and physical reassurance that while you’re enjoying yourself, someone is there to watch and make sure everyone is safe. In that way, a lifeguard tower may also be one of the most fitting places to display a public art project like “Summer of Color” with its mission of creating a sense of community and teamwork. I’m happy to say that this summer I’ll be looking forward to going to the beach for more reasons than just the sun, sand, and waves.

To check out more of the artwork that will be displayed and to read more info on the project and Portraits of Hope, click on

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Dialogue with a Fellow Blogger...

Me: What are your thoughts on swim lessons? Having been around a pool my whole life in one way or another, I can't imagine what it would feel like to not be able to swim. Do you think it's important for parents to teach their kids how to swim as a basic life skill?

Lakeshia: In regards to swimming I think that it's a wonderful way to stay active and exercise your whole body while having fun at the same time. From the time that I was a baby throughout the majority of my preteen years I was around swimming because my dad loves to swim. But now I haven't been swimming like I used to in a while. I think that it's good for parents to get their children swim lessons because it might come in handy one day. Also the lessons teach them not to be scared of the water and how to stay active and healthy while having fun. Swimming at an early age can be beneficial because it can help them acquire skills for a sport that they may pursue. What r your thoughts and how did you first start swimming?

Me: I totally agree. I've been swimming for as long as I can remember, my mom took me to Parent/Child classes when I was a baby and I've been swimming ever since. Now I've been teaching kids how to swim for almost 7 years, so it's hard for me to understand how some kids just never learn how to swim or why some parents never think to take their kid to swim lessons. Every kid doesn't have to end up on the swim team but just to know how to swim for safety reasons is so important. The hardest, but also the most rewarding, swim lesson I ever had was a 14 year old girl who never learned how to swim. She was petrified to be anywhere but in the shallow end where she could stand. I've had 4 year olds in my lessons that were so unafraid that they would jump in without thinking or realizing that they can't actually swim yet, and to see a girl in high school be so afraid of going in the pool was a crazy experience. It took me all summer, but eventually she learned how to swim a whole lap without stopping. It certainly wasn't pretty, but just the fact that she was able to keep herself afloat and be confident in the pool was astounding and made me feel great as a swim teacher to know I helped her overcome that. Like you mentioned, not being scared of the water is probably the most important thing for anyone at any age learning how to swim. Another reason it's so important to learn to swim is because it's such a common thing to spend time at the pool during the summer, for birthday parties, with family, etc. Especially being in So Cal I feel like everyone had at least a neighborhood pool that they went to for fun. Do you have any stories of you or your family related to swimming/the pool?

Lakeshia: Yea I totally agree with you that knowing how to swim is also for safety reasons. Congrats on teaching the girl how to swim and helping her overcome her fear. My mom says that when we were younger my dad used to take us in the pool with him all the time. What I remember most is the weekends during summer that me and my sis spent with my dad and we used to swim and have BBQs. Does your family swim a lot or just you?

Me: Thanks! Yeah i remember doing that a lot during the summer too. We had a neighborhood pool across the street from my house and i think I spent almost everyday of the summer there. My brother and I would spend hours there with the other neighborhood kids and our parents. I’m pretty sure my parents just got us into swimming as a basic safety skill, but both my brother and I ended up swimming competitively and playing water polo. My parents played sports growing up but neither of them was an amazing athlete or ever got into swimming. They know how to swim but they aren't very good. Did u play any sports growing up?

Lakeshia: Oh ok that's cool that both of you went on to compete. I was never the major athlete type. When I was younger I did tap dance and ballet and then I cheered my freshman year in high school but that's it. Is swimming the only sport that u did?

Me: That's cool. I danced when I was little but I stopped when I started playing soccer. I played a bunch of sports throughout my life. I played soccer for about 7 years and then basketball, and swimming off and on my whole life. I stated playing water polo when I got to high school and that became my sport, so I swam and played water polo in high school and then played polo here up until last semester. If u could've gone back and played a sport or done a different activity, would u?

Lakeshia: Oh you're very versatile in your sports. Ummm I don't think that I would have played any other sports because I'm not the athletic type but I probably would’ve kept dancing because I loved doing that. Why did you stop playing water polo here?

Me: Yeah I always was playing a sport growing up but water polo was my favorite. I had to stop playing last semester because I needed to get prepared for graduation, do internships, and get myself financially self sufficient by the time May rolled around. Why did u stop dancing?

Lakeshia: Ok I definitely understand because graduation is like I stopped dancing because we moved and there really wasn't a big dance program at my new elementary school or the park near by.

Me: Yeah we're so close to graduating, its crazy! It wasn't an easy decision though; to have to give up something you love doing. But it was definitely the best decision in the long run. I miss it a lot. What things do you think you will miss the most about LMU?

Lakeshia: Yea we really are. Although you had to give it up, at least you'll always be able to swim. I think I’m going to miss being in one place with all of my friends and knowing where everything is on campus as opposed to having to start all over. Besides water polo, what else are you going to miss?

Me: That's true. It will never be the same as being on the team, but at least I can continue to play polo and swim on my own. Yeah I think I'll miss the same kind of things, and I'll miss the fun atmosphere of just being in college with all of the friends that I've made here. It really went by too fast.

Lakeshia: Yea it did. I always heard people say enjoy it because it'll be gone before we know it but I didn't think it would be this fast. I guess it's time to start a new chapter in our lives.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Lifeguarding Across Borders

As I pull up to Celes King III Pool, it's obvious I'm very out of place. It's an LA City Public Pool, located in the Cienega/Baldwin Hills area of South LA, and I am the only light-skinned, blond-haired person I've seen since I got off the 10 Freeway. I drive around the parking lot a couple times to get a sense of my surroundings. There's a public softball field to the left where a girls' softball team has just finished practice. A Hispanic family is leaving the public park next door and heading towards their car. The pool is located at the far right end of the parking lot, and as I park my car, two teenage African-American boys are exiting the pool.

I've lived around LA my whole life and went to high school in the San Fernando Valley, so I'm no stranger to diversity and I've never felt uncomfortable being outside "my area". But I have to admit, I sat for a minute or two considering whether or not to get out of my car.

It wasn't because I didn't feel safe; it was around 4:30 in the afternoon, and there was nothing about my surroundings that seemed unsafe. It was because I knew I was out of place, and everybody around me knew it too. I know this sounds judgmental and stereotypical, but I expected that the lifeguards would not be very welcoming to possibly the only white girl who'd set foot on that pool deck in a long time. Finally, still dressed in business professional attire from being at my internship all day, I walked across the parking lot towards the pool entrance, attracting some stares and confused looks.

When I walked in, the stares continued. There were a few kids playing in the shallow end and one older man who was lap swimming, but the pool was empty otherwise. There was a man in the office who appeared to be the pool manager, and one lifeguard on tower. Two girls, who I could tell were lifeguards by their jackets, stood off to the side talking together. I hesitated for a moment, and then walked over to them and introduced myself. One was a heavy-set African American girl named Kathleen and the other was a petite Hispanic girl named Alaina. I felt like my presence there needed some sort of explanantion, so I told them briefly about the assignment and about my past lifeguarding experience.

I started lifeguarding for the City of Santa Clarita when I was 16, so I knew I had some similar experience with them as far as being a lifeguard for public city pools, but other than that, I expected that our experiences would be worlds apart. And in some ways, they were. I asked them about how long they'd been at this pool. "I've been working here for 2 years, but Alaina and I have been coming here together since we were little kids, and this place hasn't changed at all since then, for like 20 years," Kathleen said. When I started working for the City of Santa Clarita, they had just built a brand new three-pool aquatic center, and three of the eight pools in Santa Clarita had been renovated by the time I stopped working there two summers ago. Hearing them share things like that made it startlingly clear to me how different our life experiences must have been, even when it comes to swimming at the local pool during the summer. I asked them what the worst thing was that they'd experienced here, and Alaina told me that a fellow lifeguard's car was once destroyed by a group of rowdy kids they'd kicked out of the pool. "You have to be firm with them but still cool, if you're too mean then your car may not be there when you leave to go home." This was shocking to me. I've had to deal with some crazy kids and some really difficult parents, but I've never had to worry that anyone would retaliate like that.

But as we continued to talk, I found that we had much more in common than any of us may have expected. They pointed out that the man in the office was their manager, John, and Alaina rolled her eyes. I shared stories about idiot bosses I'd had as pool managers, and they shared their frustrations with John. We began to swap stories of annoying kids that cause trouble, how crazy things can get when summer camps come to the pool, and the rescues we've done and injuries we've treated. I told them about the pranks we used to do to the other pools, like unrolling all their lane lines and putting goldfish and golfballs in their pool. They both laughed and told me that I'd given them some good ideas to use. I ended up talking with them for a good 45 minutes, sharing with each other the daily dramas of working at a pool and being a lifeguard.

Before I left, I asked the manager if I could snap a few photos of the facility, and he told me I could as long as I didn't get any of the lifeguards or patrons in the photo, for privacy and personnel reasons. I thanked Alaina and Kathleen before I left, and I walked out feeling like I'd genuinely made a connection with them, even though we came from totally different places, through something as simple as being a lifeguard.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

The lane lines at the pool have a rough life. They are constantly being pulled out of the water, put back in, tightened, loosened, attached to water polo goals, configured to create a water polo game course. They are rolled up on metal reels, thrown on deck, thrown back into the pool, and changed to long course. In fact, the lane lines have a lot of significance in how the LMU pool operates. Broken lane line? That means an angry lap swimmer. Missing lane line? Unhappy water polo coach. Lane lines not tightened enough? You can bet the swim coach will let you know. So many things can go wrong with the lane lines to make someone upset and take notice. But when everything is right, no one even seems to realize they're even there.

Meet....Chris Kelly, the Pool Man

Most people don't think about much more than their tans while they're laying out in the pool deck enjoy the sun and the water. But a lot of time and hard work gets put into making sure a pool like the one here at LMU runs smoothly at all times. Chris Kelly, the Utilities Mechanic for Facilities Management, is largely responsible for keeping the Burns Rec Pool up and running.

Kelly, who is also a licensed pool operator with LA County as a Pool Technician, is responsible for all the aquatics functions on campus, including feature fountains like Foley Fountain and the one at LMU's front entrance. He is also responsible for overseeing the reclaimed water treatment program that irrigates all the plants on campus. For the Burns Rec Pool specifically, he makes sure the pool chemistry is in balance, and also handles any mechanical issues, maintenance, or repairs.

To ensure that the pool runs efficiently, Kelly says that networking with the three different but related branches of campus is key. "You have to be able to build a network and maintain the bridges between Burns Rec, LMU Athletics, and the LMU Community to understand the specific needs for each customer," says Kelly, which is a lot harder than it may seem. The pool is constantly being shifted from serving everyday lap swimmers, to being changed to accommodate team practices, to meeting the needs of Masters Swim Team.

According to Kelly, the most challenging aspect of his job is to serve all the communities that use LMU’s pool while maintaining safety, without interrupting service. "Being successful in operations without interrupting, that’s a big deal because other pools are down a lot. We’re usually able to stay open and successfully handle any concerns while still meeting the needs of the customer, which I like to call students, staff, and faculty," says Kelly.

Despite the high level of importance of what he does on a daily basis, Kelly says that the best part of his job is getting to work with students and lifeguards, and being able to keep everyone happy. "Building personal relationships and working directly with the customer base is the best part of what I do," he says.

When asked about his most successful moment on the job, Kelly had this to say: "When we hosted the National Championships for the NCAA finals of men’s water polo, the networking that took place, the months of preparation it took for those three days, and then to have it go off without any problems was just so satisfying. It felt like you just scored a touchdown or goal, knowing we pulled off that type of event, and the whole nation, the whole water polo community, is watching and even ESPN TV is here."

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

In Other Pool News...

I'm kind of shocked to find that anybody bothered to write an article devoted entirely to swimming pool lane etiquette, but this article in the Washington Post is so on point about it, it's actually entertaining. At least to anybody who has ever done some kind of competitive swimming before or has happened to get stuck in a lane with someone who likes to flail their arms unnecessarily. The article discusses issues at a community 50-meter pool, much like the pool at LMU. To me, the funniest parts of the article are the various shenanigans that lap swimmers will try to get away with in order to keep a lane to themselves, like the retirees who told a lap swimmer that it was "Senior Citizen Swim" hour so that they wouldn't have to share a lane. It may seem petty and ridiculous to someone who isn't in or around pools very often, but things like that happen all the time. The other interestingly accurate aspect of the article was the difficulty in sharing lanes when two swimmers are at completely different skill levels. As someone who has swam competitively my whole life, I've been taught that the proper etiquette when you want to pass someone who is swimming slower in front of you is to tap the person's foot. Then that person is supposed to stop either mid-lane or at the wall to let you go by, then continue swimming. But, as the article states, for people who are casual or beginner swimmers, the foot tap can easily freak them out, which I have personally experienced. I think this article is both entertaining and absolutely dead-on about all the weird etiquette and hierarchical practices that go on at most community pools, that many people are totally unaware of. Check it out!

Team Updates

The women's water polo team is in the middle of their season right now, and so far it's their best start in school history with a current record of 10 - 2. The most recent matches took place last Sunday at UC Santa Barbara, with back to back games against UCSB and Fresno Pacific, winning both games soundly. The next game will be a home match this Friday at the Burns rec Pool against CSU Bakersfield, a conference opponent. Game time is 3:00pm, so come out and support the Lions!

For more team info and complete schedule, go to