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What Do You Say To a 65-Year-old Lifeguard At Gateway National Recreation Area? Thank You!


Though 65-years-old, Don Davis recently qualified to serve as a lifeguard at Gateway National Recreation Area this year. Family photo via NPS.

Can you imagine the look on the face of Gateway National Recreation Area Water Safety Coordinator Carl Martinez when he realized the man standing before him to be tested for a lifeguard position was 65 years old?

“Am I the only one on Medicare who is taking the test today?” asked Don Davis as he registered recently to take the National Park Service’s Surf-Lifeguard Pre-Employment Test at Fordham University. As it turns out, he was. The participant next closest to him in age that day was 49.

By day's end Mr. Davis, a 65-year-old former chief lifeguard for City of New York Parks Department, had successfully passed the test as an annual requirement of all those seeking to work on the surf-lifeguard staff at Gateway National Recreation Area, which is located in the New York-New Jersey metropolitan area. His performance was not lost on Carl Martinez or the other test participants.

“All participants that day witnessed the truly inspiring power of personal example,” said Mr. Martinez. “Whether they were 15 or 49 years old, each of them will retain the memory of Don’s feat. And, in life, it really does not get very much better than that.”

According to the Park Service, the three-part test consists of timed performance objectives designed to measure for factors directly related to surf-lifeguard work, such as speed, strength, and stamina; knowledge of basic swimming-rescue and adult CPR procedures, and; readily observable skills in effectively applying such knowledge under stressful conditions.

The first part of the test requires completion of a 600-yard swim in less than 10 minutes (in a 25-yard pool or other measured course, using a swim stroke on the front only). Davis completed the required distance in 9:45 minutes. By contrast, another test-taker, age 20, failed this section of the test with a finish time of 10:03 minutes.

The next section of the test, the speed rescue, involves swimming 50 yards to a dummy; towing that dummy 50 yards back to the starting point; quickly exiting the pool; then performing three cycles of adult CPR on a manikin—all in less than 4 minutes. Davis completed this section of the test in 3:25 minutes.

The final part of the test required completion of a 1½-mile run in less than 12 minutes (on a ¼-mile track or other measured course). Davis completed the required distance in 11:36 minutes. By contrast, another test-taker, age 29, failed this part of the test with a finish time of 12:07 minutes.

Mr. Davis passed the required test to qualify for a highly coveted spot on the surf-lifeguard staff of Gateway. Since the park’s first summer season in 1974, this staff of some 150 dedicated women and men has provided professional life-guarding services to more than 100 million beach goers. Gateway National Recreation Area sees over 9 million visitors a year, making it one of the most visited sites in the National Park System in the largest metropolitan area in the country.


Mr. Davis leads by example, young and old, that good health habits and physical fittest starts now regardless of age. Kudos to Mr. Davis!

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