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Whistling summer's swan song

Nothing quite signals the end of summer like a lifeguard’s last whistle at the city pool.

About three dozen children and a lap swimmer stayed in the water until the last on Monday afternoon at the Civic Center Pool. Two boys clambered up the stairs for one final run down the water slide. Another boy jumped in to fetch a ball that had rolled away as he and his family were packing up. A mother ready to go home yelled to her children on the other side of the pool, but to no avail.

The shadows from the live oak trees that rim the grounds had already grown tall, covering half the pool by closing time.

Three quick blasts and a long, loud tweet from a couple of guards let the swimmers, splashers and paddlers know it was time, at last, to get out of the water for the summer.

Kevin Bond/For the DRC 

Deborah Grabowski

Most of the pool’s part-time help already scattered for fall pastures, said pool manager Deborah Grabowski. She was suited up with her cherry red tank suit under her blue polo shirt and dark khakis.

“Just in case I have to get in the water, too,” Grabowski said.

But there was still ample local staff left to rotate through the five lifeguard stands Monday afternoon, blowing their whistles to remind swimmers: “Walk please,” or “You can’t stand on the floaties,” or “Don’t hold onto the ropes.”

Kevin Bond/For the DRC 

Zackery Clark

Lifeguard and pool manager Zackery Clark said he enjoys the work and doesn’t plan to do anything different with his summers for the foreseeable future.

A freelance job guarding for the Tough Mudder obstacle race let him put his training to the test.

“They handed me a tube and said this is where you’ll be from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.,” Clark said. He watched over a barrel-filled pond the runners had to cross for the final obstacle.

Most of the runners were tired by the time they hit the pond. That day, he made 14-15 saves of adults in distress, he said.

“That was intense,” he said, adding that he felt like he really made a difference.

But it also contrasts sharply with the otherwise bucolic work guarding at a city pool, where you might make one or two saves the entire summer, he said.

As a young woman, Grabowski served as a lifeguard one summer in the Air Force reserves. Later, after she retired from the Dallas police force, she asked Denton parks whether they would consider a 52-year-old woman for guarding.

She passed the test.

“I never lost my love for swimming,” she said.

The work is different now than it was 30 years ago, she said, with rescue tubes and training and in-services to boost professionalism.

That training and professionalism was on display shortly after the pool closed Monday. A grandmother had collapsed in the restroom and needed to be taken to the hospital. In addition to the staff’s swift response to the woman, other lifeguards quickly located her granddaughter and stayed with her until paramedics were ready to tend to her, too.

Attendance soared to almost 23,000 people at the Civic Center Pool this summer, up 14% from last year. Cathy Avery, aquatics director, credited better weather for the increased attendance at both the pool and at Water Works Park. Attendance at Water Works will likely exceed 82,000 this year, a 12% increase over last year.