From Lifeguards to Lockdown

On August 17 2021, Aotearoa was swiftly sent into Level 4 lockdown after a case of COVID-19 emerged in the community. It was a blow for Recreation Aotearoa and aquatic professionals from around the country who were preparing for what was possibly going to be the best Waves Conference yet. But not all had been lost, as hours prior to the Government announcement, five mighty teams of Lifeguards and a manikin called Kurt came together to compete for the coveted OPSEC National Pool Lifeguard Team of Year title.

This is their story.

On the morning of August 17 Lifeguards from Wellington City Council, CLM, Horowhenua District Council, and Queenstown Lakes District Council arrived at the Lido Aquatic Centre in Palmerston North, ready to be put through their paces in a bid to be crowned National Pool Lifeguard Team of the Year. Their first challenge had been set days before - come up with an exceptional team name. The competition line-up became Keas on Guard (Queenstown Lakes District Council), CLM Reheko! (CLM National), CLM Frido (CLM Palmerston North), Code Brown (Horowhenua District Council), and Ngā Puna Kaukau Hāpori ō Te Whanganui-a-Tara (Wellington City Council). Sarah Ford, Recreation Aotearoa Marketing Manager dubbed team Keas on Guard naming champions, earning them an enormous box of Favourites.

After team photos, admirations of the OPSEC sponsored flags, and a briefing from Recreation Aotearoa staff, the teams of four were ready to get in the pool for their first physical challenge - a 100 metre relay comprising of swimming and casualty towing techniques. There were judges poolside, team managers and lifeguard assessors, with clipboards in hand and watching with trained eyes as the teams carried out their tasks. Speed, teamwork, and spot on technique were required to succeed, with time penalties given for incorrect technique. Keas on Guard smashed the relay and took out the top spot, earning them yet another enormous box of Favourites. They later shared their bounty.

Darren 'Daz' Pott, acting judge and CLM facility manager expressed FOMO, having not been part of the CLM teams this year but was thrilled to be involved as a judge. "Having two teams in this year meant we saw some banter and challenges happening between them. They had an absolute blast" said Daz. "The team had the butterflies in the morning but once they got stuck into the swim and could focus on the task at hand, they all visibly relaxed and we started to see some smiles and laughs come through."

Following a well-deserved break with snacks and coffee, the next portion of the day was filled with a series of scenarios the teams had to work through. This is where Kurt the manikin really shone. There were two pool scenarios in which the teams had to respond to a suspected spinal injury (assessed by Daz and Cameron Lovatt) and resuscitate an unconscious casualty (assessed by Gastón Vélez and Fran Smaller). The third scenario involved Jack, the competition sponsor (OPSEC), as a customer breaching pool rules (assessed by Tracey Prince-Puketapu). These challenges tested the lifeguards' teamwork, response under pressure, first aid practices, and customer interaction skills. CLM Reheko! impressed with their response to the spinal injury and customer management skills, taking out first place in these scenarios. While CLM Frido showed remarkable efficiency and professionalism when rescuing the blackout casualty from the depths of the swimming pool. Kurt the manikin is doing well.

Horowhenua District Council Operations Supervisor and competition assessor, Gastón Vélez, had this to say: "the team enjoyed the relay and the scenarios. They became aware of their strengths and the aspects they would like to improve. Most importantly, they all enjoyed the day and were enthusiastic to come back next year. We're eager to organise internal competitions at home to keep the spirit up. It has certainly created a positive atmosphere and a stronger sense of pride and belonging."

The final two challenges required the teams to delve into their knowledge banks and stretch their creative muscles. Skills Active's Linda Dorrington put their pool operation knowledge to the literal test with a quiz that could earn them up to 50 points. Then a TikTok video challenge forced them to think outside the pool and showcase their team personality in a way that could see them win the internet. Keas on Guard showed up first again, winning Linda's carefully curated and strictly moderated quiz. TikTok challenges are still under review and could determine a very close race.

"It was great to see the fantastic teamwork on display throughout the competition. All the teams threw themselves into the challenges with huge enthusiasm, and it was evident that a lot of effort had gone into training prior to the competition," said Rhiann Collins, Recreation Aotearoa Quality Programmes Manager and competition organiser.

"The teams displayed slick drills, good communication skills and quality techniques on the day. It is reassuring to know that our facilities are run by such passionate individuals working together to provide safe and welcoming aquatic spaces for their communities."

The final scores are being tallied and the top team will be announced in the coming weeks. Watch this space to find out who will become the 2021 OPSEC National Pool Lifeguard Team of the Year.

Thank you to the competition sponsor, OPSEC, and to CLM for providing the space and swag bags.

Watch the TikTok submissions below...

Welington City Council faced some technical difficulties, so their TikTok didn't quite might the cut in the above video! But you can view it below...

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