Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Lifesaving Ain't Easy

Picture yourself: Over 20 hours of running, swimming, treading, saving, strengthening, studying, and more swimming... all in four days.

The upside? It all takes place on beautiful beaches (and our rainforest swimming pool) of Manuel Antonio, and you have the chance to receive an Open Water Lifesaving certification.

Okay, so it's not the idea that most people get in their heads when thinking about a trip to Costa Rica, but it is for Leadership students. While they do come here to introduce themselves to a new culture and language, they also have some serious goals in mind to become Outdoor Leaders. With those goals comes a lot of hard work and responsibility in order to acquire all seven certifications offered on a Leadership Semester course, including the Open Water Lifesaving Certification. This is similar to lifeguarding training, but it includes natural bodies of water (not rivers, however - read about the Whitewater Rescue Technician certification here).

You'll be happy to know, too, that this is the same training our instructors get before becoming an instructor.

Open Water Lifesaving is a tough certification to receive, and not all students pass it. It requires four tough days (split into two separate weekends) of hard physical work in a pool, on a beach, in calm open water, and in rough open water. 90% of their time is spent in the water.
"It's pretty physically exhausting... and it was great realizing we had the strength and stamina to swim out into the ocean that far." -Debbie Mayer, a past Lifesaving trainee (and our Marketing Coordinator)

Students can achieve one of two certifications as recognized by the AsociaciĆ³n Costarricense de Guardias (Costa Rica Lifesaving Association):
  • Open Water Lifesaving: student exhibits strong capacity to handle a lifesaving emergency alone, in both the pool and open water; student exhibits strong knowledge of how the lifesaving process works through a written examination
  • Junior Open Water Lifesaving: student exhibits capacity to handle a lifesaving emergency accompanied by one other person; student exhibits strong knowledge of how the lifesaving process works through a written examination

Carlos Segura, the Costa Rican instructor who has partnered with Costa Rica Outward Bound for five years to teach this course, monitors the students' abilities every minute of the four days he spends with him. Their practice includes book work and physical work. By day, students train in pool sessions open water (two days of each). By night, they read and answer questions about rip tides, victim health and anatomy, water currents, and more technical lifesaving knowledge. Physical day challenges include:
  • treading water "egg beater" style
  • saving both an unconcious and a crazed victim
  • passing a heavy victim overhead while treading
  • swimming far out into the ocean and back
  • weaving among other swimmers in currents
  • paddling a victim to shore through waves while providing proper protection of the victim
  • running and hurdling parallel to shore in the water breaks
  • saving someone using a surfboard and a torpedo
  • entering and exiting the open water safely

The final day consists of both the written and practical exams. For the practical exam, Carlos uses his analysis of trainees to push them to their own individual limits during the final physical evaluation. This includes a rigorous combination of running, swimming, and treading for long periods of time, during which he orally quizzes them on open water lifesaving knowledge they have been studying.

Carlos is more than experienced training students to become certified lifesavers. He has trained with four major organizations: the American Red Cross, YMCA, United States Lifesaving Association (USLA), and Marine Rescue.

After so many years of experience in training and testing, Carlos is happy to report "there have been no serioius incidents," and "Even if they don't all receive the official certifications, all trainees at least have enough knowledge and practice to save a life in an emergency water victim situation."

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