Taylor DeThorne walked near the water’s edge at Central Park. A group of kids were splashing too vigorously.
“Boys! Hands to yourself,” DeThorne admonished. “Keep your hands to yourself.”
It was 1 p.m. on Tuesday. DeThorne, head lifeguard at Schenectady’s football field-sized pool, had nine people on her watch. Gray skies and mild temperatures — the city’s summer oven was only 76 degrees — had persuaded some aquanauts to stay home.
DeThorne, 20, who graduated from Schenectady High School in 2009 and will be a junior this fall at the University at Albany, has been watching people swim at Central Park for the past five summers. Nine people in the water is a small crowd. On some days, when it’s 90 degrees in the Capital Region, there might be a hundred people or more in the 900,000 gallons of cool blue.
“When you have a lot more people in here, the head guards will float out there,” said DeThorne, dressed in a red T-shirt and black shorts over a pink swimsuit. “It’s more stressful because you have more bodies in the water, but it’s still the same precautions.”
Solving a mystery
A few minutes after 1 p.m., Sandy Kelly and her granddaughter, Arianna Marshall, 5, of Schenectady, left the water. Grandfather Samuel Kelly told DeThorne his swimmers had located some kind of droppings in the water.
DeThorne asked Sandy about the general location. She walked with the family toward the section of the pool, resolved to solve the mystery.
“Did you have fun today?” she asked Arianna. “Did you go really deep?”
The head lifeguard checked debris on the pool floor and gave skimmer assignment to another guard, who walked into the shallow water with a net attached to a long pole. A bird had indeed made a mess in the people’s pool, leaving feathers and other souvenirs from a brief visit.
“We like to keep the pool as clean as we can,” DeThorne said, as Arianna followed her to a white pool-side chair. “Sometimes, the birds and the geese don’t like us to do that.”
At 1:10, there were no birds in sight. Kids were splashing and running in the water. Four adults bobbed and floated, enjoying the cool without the exercise. Some kids dived to the bottom, put their hands on the cement floor and poked their legs straight up out of the water. No adults were swimming laps, so the other half of the pool was closed.
Thirteen lifeguards were on the afternoon shift, and three guards were on watch at 1:15. Both sides of the pool were covered, and a guard sat in the center, on a special chair anchored in the water.
“We switch every 10 minutes,” said DeThorne, whose assignment was on the casino side, the side where people enter the pool. Young Arianna, wrapped in an oversized New York Lottery towel, had followed.
“You want to stay with me and lifeguard?” DeThorne asked. Arianna smiled her response.
Other girls came out of the water to talk. Algena Scott, 11, of Schenectady, had been to camp. Her sister Rotisha, 12, was thinking about moves out of the water. “Are you excited to go to your dance tomorrow?” DeThorne asked. “Can I go with you?”
In the middle of things
At 1:20, DeThorne shifted her perspective. She waded out into the water and took a seat in the center of the pool. Kids bobbed and ducked in front of her. Mike Burke, head of Schenectady’s Parks and Recreation Department, stopped by the operation.
“She’s a good kid, she’s good with people, she comes from a family of Central Park lifeguards,” he said. “The little kids in the morning love her; she does swimming lessons. It’s fun to watch her in the water with the kids.”
At 1:28, DeThorne saw something she didn’t like. She blew her pink whistle and issued another warning to a small group of grab-happy kids. “Keep your hands to yourself, please,” she said.
Twelve people were swimming at 1:30. Five minutes later, another six were in the drink. All wore bathing suits; blue jeans or blue jean cut-off shorts are not allowed. Neither are chicken fights, so kids never sit on the shoulders of other kids.
Burke said there are rarely problems. “They are all trained in first aid,” he said. “They’re all in the annex to become ER [emergency room] doctors: ‘I want to put on the Band-Aid, I want to take out the sliver.’ ”
At 1:45, DeThorne relinquished her watery chair — after an extra-long shift. She walked through the water to the casino side of the pool. Five minutes later, it started to sprinkle. The extra water didn’t bother the swimmers and didn’t bother DeThorne.
“If it rains so hard we can’t see the bottom, we close the pool,” she said. “And if there’s a rumble of thunder, we close the pool.”
Thirty minutes after the thunderclap — with no other claps afterward — swimmers are allowed back in the water. Weather and medical concerns are handled quickly. DeThorne said there have been times when kids have thrown up in the pool — or just couldn’t make it out of water and into the bathroom in time. Quick clean up and a chlorine shock to the water follow. So does a 30-minute time-out for swimmers, while the chlorine disperses.
Good job to have
DeThorne does not complain. “It’s a good summer job; it’s a good job in general,” she said. “It teaches you how to deal with people.”
At 1:55, raindrops became more persistent. “It looks like it’s going to clear,” DeThorne said. “If not, I’ll bet some people are going to leave.”
A small boy without a shirt walked outside the pool. DeThorne slapped palms with the kid and took a quick look at him.
“Your lips are blue,” she said, guarding health out of the water, too. “Go warm up.”
“On the Clock” profiles people at work in the Capital Region by spending one hour with them on the job. Nominate a friend or co-worker by contacting Gazette reporter Jeff Wilkin at 395-3124 or at [email protected].