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Sunday, 15 December 2013

In Need To Be Rescued

It was Summer of 1966. I, as a thirteen year old schoolboy, went every day to the local swimming pool while both my parents were at work, and my younger brother was looked after by a neighbour. The pool was outdoor, therefore subject to the British weather. However, 1966 brought quite a warm Summer, if I recall, allowing me to attend every weekday.
The attraction was more than just a pool. There was also a children's pool, and between it and the main one was a fountain, where kids of my age often sat on the ledge as if designed for the purpose and allowed the water to cascade over our heads. The flat roof of the changing room building served as a sun deck, which one had to be sixteen or over to sunbathe there, but younger kids, like myself often went up and played a game of chase. At times the grumpy site manager, whose permanent residence was also within the grounds and next to the cafeteria, threw out kids who were most disruptive and ordering them to go home. Fortunately I was not one of them. On the other side of the main pool from the changing room there was a large lawn where bathers had their picnics under the warm sunshine, and sunbathed in between swims.
Being outdoor, the pool was closed to the public from September or October through to April. When it opened in the Spring, our school P.E. lessons were held at the pool. However, it was when I was already thirteen years of age that for the first time I began to swim tentatively, quite late for an individual, as other children as young as eight years were already able to swim at the primary school I attended previously.

It was during the school holidays of 1966 when a lifeguard by the name of Tony was temporarily employed by the manager. Being such a short term contract, even back then I guessed that he was an undergraduate on a break from his studies. Day after day he kept on pacing around the busy pool wearing a white tracksuit top with the logo LIFEGUARD emblazoned across his back in three-inch high blue lettering. He had a calm, introverted temperament which made him not only approachable, but subject to teasing by a few of the boys, including myself. I guess there was something of high quality about this man who wore spectacles: enviable, an instinctive feeling that he was very intelligent, well educated, yet when it comes to the water, a slim, fit and superb rescuing machine whose swimming and first aid abilities were well above what we could imagine.

It was one afternoon that I was in the pool, and struggling to finish the length I had tried to complete. I have completed laps in the pool already, but normally right next to the edge where I can grab hold of, if I experienced difficulty. But on this occasion I was right in the middle, and I had arrived at the deep end when something happened, possibly hit by an unexpected wave, and unable to feel the bottom with my feet, began to go under.

How fortunate it was that Tony had suspected my weakness in the water and decided to keep watch over my progress. While I was struggling, he stooped down, and while still on land, attempted to reach me with his outstretched arm. But I was out of his reach by up to a metre, leaving him with no other option but to leap in, wrap his arm around my chest and tow me to the edge. Once back on land, a small crowd of admirers gathered around him as he stripped off his wet tracksuit top. Also, surprisingly, a crowd of inquirers gathered around me too. As Tony afterwards re-appeared in a plain tee-shirt, I felt it was time for me to go home - early.

I did not return to the pool until a full week afterwards, as I stayed at home in full shame and embarrassment. My shame was heightened by the teasing remarks I threw at him, out of jealousy, before the incident. I dreaded going back to the pool, but at the end I drew up enough courage to go. I was very much relieved to find that Tony was absent - in fact it wasn't long before two other lifeguards were employed to replace him. To this day - over 47 years - I had never found out whether his disappearance was due to his contract expiring, or whether he had a hunch about my embarrassment in his presence, so decided to leave early. I never ever saw Tony again. His apparent mid-holiday leaving is a curiosity that will never be solved.

But the rescue had a big impact in the years to follow. During my spare time I practised swimming to strengthen my stroke action. By 1972, I joined a Life-Saving Club which was held at an indoor pool in Reading - possibly the same venue Tony trained so many years earlier, as speaking to other lifeguards, all testifying to the same venue.

Arthur Hill Baths in Reading, where I qualified as a lifeguard in 1972

I was successful in achieving the Bronze Medallion by Christmas 1972. Back then this was the qualifying award which enabled me to be a lifeguard at any poolside in the country. I took advantage of the qualification. I became a pool lifeguard in Reading for the Summer months of 1973, just a short while after becoming a Christian in that same year. Literally speaking, I was on the same par as Tony previously - except that I had to wear a plain but distinctive tee-shirt without the coveted logo across the back, at the time it was something I really wanted!

It took me 47 years for me to come out with this story. Why such shame and embarrassment arising over getting into trouble in a swimming pool? Or can this sort of thing be seen from a different perspective - the acknowledging that anyone can get into a serious situation and in need to be rescued by another? What is the difference between a weak swimmer unintentionally getting into difficulties and that of a hiker, or a group of hikers, becoming marooned on a mountain due to a sudden change of weather? In my case the lifeguard had the correct perspective of my condition in the water, therefore he kept a close watch. It did not come as a surprise to him when I got unstuck - it was as though he was half expecting it to happen. Yet when a group of hikers becomes marooned on a mountain trail, they have to wait there until a helicopter arrives - a rescue which is much more dramatic - and costly too! -than a distressed swimmer in a supervised pool.

But being rescued by a lifeguard had dramatically changed everything - from a mocking schoolboy to a stronger swimmer and eventually a lifeguard myself. And guess what? As a lifeguard, I too became a target of teasing boys during public swimming sessions. History repeating itself.

Then there is the case of Simon Peter in the New Testament. An experienced fisherman, the nightly hauling of the nets heavy with fish had developed his upper arms into bulging muscles. He knew much about life on the open water. He knew what to do during a storm when his boat was tossed about out on the turbulent lake. Totally opposite to Tony, Simon's temperament was fully extrovert, and he had his way in keeping his tongue wagging even at times when it was not called for. For example, his excitable but thoughtless talk landed the strongest rebuke Jesus could deliver, even calling him "Satan!" His constant need to say something called for God the Father to rebuke him on top of a mountain. And his non-stop chatter in his Galilean accent betrayed him as he warmed his hands at the enemy's fire. Yet despite his wagging tongue, Peter was a strong swimmer, something his profession most likely demanded. One morning, after the Resurrection of Christ, while out in the boat, he impulsively dived into the lake to swim to Jesus, who had breakfast prepared for him and his fellow fishermen.

Dawn at the Sea of Galilee - where Peter swam to his Divine Lifeguard

But Peter's failure as a swimmer and falling into a panic - and of Jesus as a divine lifeguard, has to be on an earlier occasion when they were out at sea. It was a stormy night, and as the boat tossed about in the rough waters, they see Jesus walking towards them, his clothing blowing in the wind. All the disciples, fishermen and all, were terrified that they were seeing a ghost. When Jesus assured them that it was he, and not a ghost, Peter stepped out of the boat towards Jesus, after the Lord encouraged him to also walk on the water. He walked a little way when a wave most likely struck his legs. Immediately he panicked, and he began to sink. "Lord, save me!" He yelled, and Jesus took hold of his hand and pulled him up. Still holding tight to Jesus, Peter made his way back to the boat, relieved but most likely ashamed and embarrassed in front of the other eleven - a strong, experienced fisherman at that (Matthew 14:22-33.)

As with me, Peter's panic and rescue had a big impact on his life. As I too became a lifeguard several years later, after his distress, Peter himself began to pluck other men from their sins through the power of the Holy Spirit within him. Jesus Christ is our Saviour, and also our lifeguard. I recall several incidents throughout life, particularly as a young child on the road, where I came through an accident and survived, even if I spent several weeks at a children's hospital.

But the issue is this: we all need to be rescued from our sins, and that includes Tony, as well as Simon Peter and myself. I hope that Tony, the 1966 lifeguard, had himself grasped the hand of the risen Lord and allowed himself to be rescued from his troubled state. Tony is one I'll never forget, neither will I ever forget the outdoor swimming pool, which closed in the 1970s and was demolished to make way for a new residential estate. But back then, for Tony to save me was an act of duty; for Christ to save me was an act of love.



While this blog was being prepared, it was my intention to include a vintage photo of the outdoor pool where I swam as a schoolboy in the 1960s. The Archives has a rare photo of the location in the public library, but a fault in the scanning has delayed obtaining a copy until later in the week. If successful, this blog will be re-posted with the pic included, as well as a keepsake for my own albums. Look out for the updated title in Facebook or Twitter. Or just return to this blog later in the week.


  1. Dear Frank,
    I love the analogy between struggling in the water, needing to be rescued, and the struggle each of us faces before we are saved. Unless we give up the fight and realize we are helpless to save ourselves, we can't be saved, because our pride prevents it. But if we keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, we can even walk on water if He desires it!
    Thanks as always for the enlightening and well-written post, & God bless!

  2. Hi Frank,
    I too used to go to a swimming pool in my home town as a child, very much like the one you describe. Your words 'How fortunate it was that Tony had suspected my weakness in the water and decided to keep watch over my progress.' remind me of how the Lord sees the need to rescue us in this world, because of the weakness of the flesh. After He came into my life, just like you went to become a lifeguard after Tony rescuing you, my desire was to evangelize to those who do not know Jesus, and tell them about God's desire to rescue us from eternal damnation.
    God bless you for sharing

  3. Great post, Frank.

    My experience came before I learned to swim. A group of swimmers were playing a game and unintentionally pushed me under. I still don't like being in crowded pool because of the memory. I like your comparison of the lifeguard, Tony to Christ.