Move over Baywatch, it's time for 'Greywatch' in Saint John

Brad Doley is one of three retirees training to become a lifeguard. He's been swimming at the Canada Games Aquatic Centre since it opened in 1985.  (Graham Thompson/CBC - image credit)
Brad Doley is one of three retirees training to become a lifeguard. He's been swimming at the Canada Games Aquatic Centre since it opened in 1985. (Graham Thompson/CBC - image credit)

Susan Keeley never had a chance to learn how to swim as a kid. In 1985, when the Canada Games came to Saint John, she fell in love with the sport and decided to join the aquatics centre named after the event.

"I swam every day, instead of going to eat at Market Square, and I'd copy all the people in the lanes and when they weren't watching I tried to do what they did."

Now Keeley and two other retirees are working to give back to the pool they spend so much time in by becoming certified as lifeguards.

The trio — who call themselves Greywatch — just finished their Bronze Cross certification and will take the National Lifeguard certification next.

Graham Thompson/CBC
Graham Thompson/CBC

"I love the aquatic centre," Keeley said when asked why she wanted to become a lifeguard.

Having three new lifeguards will help keep the centre adequately staffed, according to Amy McLennan, the centre's general manager.

McLennan said there is a national lifeguard shortage due to delays in certification caused by the pandemic.

"And at the aquatic centre we have a range of ages in terms of our membership and our patrons," she said. "So it makes sense to have a range of ages on deck."

Graham Thompson/CBC
Graham Thompson/CBC

Once fully certified, they'll work at least 10 hours a month at the pool.

WATCH | Jump in the pool to see Greywatch in action:

'I'm getting old, but I'm not old yet.'

Another member of Greywatch, Brad Doley, has also been swimming at the centre since it opened in 1985.

"The three of us here that have been doing this, we're all what the government calls old," Doley said.

But that doesn't mean they can't dive into the water and save lives.

"Everything that we're doing and have done and will have to do to pass this course, is the same thing that any 15-16-18-year-old has to do. There's no favouritism for us whatsoever," he said.

He quotes a line from the David Myles song When it Comes my Turn, "I'm getting old, but I'm not old yet."

Dave Smith, the third member of Greywatch, agrees.

Graham Thompson/CBC
Graham Thompson/CBC

"The sky's the limit," he said. Look after your body and "you can do anything, you know, if you're lucky enough to have good health."

George Knoepfler, a staff member at the pool who recruited the three aspiring lifeguards, said having a variety of ages on staff is better for everyone.

"I'm 56 years old," Knoepfler said. "And I find that working with young people, it keeps me young, and it keeps me motivated."

And it's also a positive for the staff who might be working in one of their first jobs.

"We have an experience of life which they don't have," he said. "And we can share what we learned in our lives, and teach these young people and mentor young people."

Samuel Hamilton, the young staff member who's been training Greywatch, knows this first hand.

Graham Thompson/CBC
Graham Thompson/CBC

He said it's nice to teach an older class because they're more talkative than a younger group.

"I've learned some of their life experiences, and it's really been an eye opener," he said.

The trials of certification

Becoming a lifeguard isn't easy, at any age. One of the toughest tests is swimming to the deep end, diving to the floor, picking up a ten pound brick and treading water while carrying it to the wall.

That's a tough challenge, said Smith, who competed in the men's 65-69 age group at the 2022 world triathlon sprint and relay championships Montreal in June.

Graham Thompson/CBC
Graham Thompson/CBC

"I find coming here and training for this, to dive down to the deep end, is more intimidating than what I had to do in the St. Lawrence [River] as far as I'm concerned," Smith said.

But having lifesaving skills is rewarding.

"You take it seriously, take pride in being a lifeguard and, you know, hopefully you don't have to use all of your skills, but you know, you're ready and able to go."