Got an email from an old friend, Andy (from 1977!) on Friday night. I am sure it had been decades since we’d spoken last. He had seen an article I wrote out there on the web while searching for ideas on leadership styles for medical students and dropped me a line. I was floored and pleased by his outreach! It was so fun to remember our friendship during the Work Hard Play Hard days of being Milwaukee County Lifeguards…those were interesting times to be sure! In the hey day, this was an elite, athletic, well-trained corps of young men and women protecting patrons at the park pools and beaches across the county. It was run as a para-military organization with strict rules, consequences and uniforms – complete with pith helmets, wool coats and rain slickers. A corps with rich history with two generations of leadership and an immaculate safety record. It felt like important work in spite of the easy summer job stereotype. Loads of back story….call me for details.
Anyway, Andy caught me up on his life – wife and kids doing well, fun reminders of days gone by and few questions about other guards and do I ever come back to Wisconsin. Asked about Mom and my business. It was GREAT to hear from him and I am SO glad he and his family are happy and healthy. He also shared that a mutual lifeguard friend, Wayde, had passed away some years back – out of the blue. Didn’t say much more except that he was a “beloved and somewhat legendary” HS girls swim coach in Minnesota.
I was shocked and so so sad. Although we had lost touch after I stopped lifeguarding (after 7 years), I was always happy to have worked with him and to have considered him a friend. He and Andy and a few others were part of this wonderful group of guy friends I had during all those summers of emergency procedure practice, weekend water polo, swim/row/run competitions, first aid, “jumps” (rescues), CPR training and cameraderie.
For the rest of the evening (hours) I cried off and on – it hit me so hard that it caught me off guard. I guess I just think that my past and present friends are always going to be around. Only one other contemporary of mine has passed away until now – not good at this. No doubt there are others, but I don’t know of them. Gratefully, my close circle of HS friends is still intact. Hit me like a box of rocks.
Wayde was my Head Guard when I worked at Bradford Beach – I was the first “girl” to work there – it was a big deal at the time to “allow” girls (yup, that’s what we were called) to work at the beach because it was harder than working at a pool. I agree – it was hard! And Wayde was extra hard on me – I think so that no one could say I was being babied or favored in any way. Tough love lifeguard leadership…Formative experience? YES. Pulled my weight? YES. Favored? YES – in that he did me a lifetime favor of never being fearful of taking a risk or being the only or handling tough situations….
After I responded to Andy with a very LONG, emotional, newsy, “I ended up OK and am doing cool stuff” email (pressed SEND too soon and am 100% sure I over-shared…haven’t heard back from him), I looked and looked for news about Wayde. He was 44 when he died. Had a heart attack in his sleep…funny thing is – he was a US Master’s record holding swimmer at the time. Not only was he known for his swimming excellence, kindness, motivation and sense of humor – he was an expert event planner – swim meets, races, other competitions. I found numerous lovely comments about the void left by his passing and notes from his HS swimmers who as they went on to swim in college, named him as a primary, significant influence in their lives. I do not do him justice here with these few words.
I know Spring will come. Guaranteed. Pretty sure the sun will come up tomorrow a few minutes sooner than yesterday. Other than that? No guarantees. The “prolong my life” efforts I make are good – but are not guaranteed to add a certain number of days to my life. Wayde was healthy, making a difference and excelling at work he loved and still left this earth way too soon. I can only hope to be mentioned someday as someone’s primary significant influencer…
Spring WILL come and right now, that guarantee is going to be enough…