WILDWOOD — With her whistle around her neck and sunscreen poking out of her fanny pack, Bryce Hamilton walks through the Raging Waters water park on Morey’s Piers Thursday morning.
Families in brightly colored bathing suits climb up wooden stairs to the slides and rope swings where lifeguards have already taken their positions.
“Watch out, Bryce is coming,” she laughs, throwing her hands in the air as she walks by water spraying from a pirate ship nears the children’s play area.
The 19-year-old from Mount Laurel, Burlington County, started as a lifeguard at the park a few weeks before Memorial Day weekend and now is a supervisor for 160 other guards. Along with a blue uniform, her job comes with more responsibilities. She runs rescue drills, trains guards in CPR and even comes to work early to walk the empty watersides and inspect them.
She stops walking at one point to talk to a guard surveying the clear plastic tubes flowing down the lazy river. He has to put on his red visor. It can’t rest around his neck.
They call her the “queen of tube straps,” she says. It’s not at all uncommon during her inspections for her to pull on the black straps to make sure the guards have their long, red rescue tubes secured. After all, the tube can float up to four grown men and she insists they are the key to lifeguarding.
She does it all with a smile, but Bryce also knows how serious training and being prepared are for the job.
“When you’re sitting in the chair, we tell the guards to be on edge just a little bit. We want to scare you just a little bit so you’re attentive and aware,” she said. “Being nervous is good.”
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She’s used to the pressure.
When she’s studying health science in college in Florida, she also works in a hospital. She chose the lifeguarding job because she thought it would help enhance her life-saving skills.
She runs through a CPR training drill with another guard, coaching her through the stages, checking for a pulse, checking for breathing obstructions and performing compression and rescue breaths.
“You’re going to blow up my baby,” she jokes when one puff is too hard.
At the end of the demonstration, she cradles the baby like a reunited parent.
While she is usually the victim in the practice drills, this time Bryce offers to show off her lifeguarding skills.
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Sitting atop a chair near the pool, she waits, then her coworker pretends to struggle in the water.
She blows one loud whistle, and in an instant, she’s in the water, the rescue tube in front of her and her victim. She kicks backward to bring the victim safely to the stairs.
“We love you, Jacob,” she says, laughing to the other lifeguard now safely out of the pool.
She says the guards have become a community.
“We are all a big family here,” she said. “I love it.”