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(Enlarge) Members of the junior lifeguard class at Merritt Athletic Club and instructors included, from left, front row, Tyrus Mataban, instructor Samantha Hindman, Aaron Wetten, Madi and Ariel Biegle; and back row, Mike and assistant instructor Robbie Carroll. (Some last names were not provided.) (Submitted photo)

With the blow of a whistle and a shout of "Clear the pool!" Aaron Wetten jumped off his chair into the deep end of the pool to rescue a floundering youth.

In the blink of an eye, he had the swimmer safely to the side of the pool.

At age 8, Wetten is not exactly a certified lifeguard, but as of last month, he and four other local youngsters were graduates of Merritt Athletic Club's lifeguard camp.

"It's just like a junior camp. They don't get certification," said Samantha Hindman, 22, head instructor of the camp. "It's just for fun."

Not everyone would consider swimming 400 meters daily or learning how to rescue active and passive victims fun.

But for the five participants in the camp, held in mid-July, the activities were great.

"I thought it would be a little easier," admitted Tyrus Mataban, 9. "No, it was a lot harder. We had to save Robbie!"

Robbie Carroll, assistant instructor of the class, proved to be the toughest "rescue," as he stands over six-feet tall -- quite a bit taller than the youth.

Saving Carroll was even tougher than retrieving the 5-pound brick from the bottom of the pool, they all agreed.

"It was a 10-pound brick," Hindman corrected the class. That prompted the students to stare in disbelief, amazed that they had been duped.

"These kids are really good," Hindman said with pride. "They are doing stuff kids my age find hard."

This is the second year Merritt has hosted the junior lifeguard class, Hindman said. While the camp does not provide certification or teach CPR, it teaches a variety of life-saving skills that Hindman said can help youngsters get an idea if lifeguarding may be something they're interested in pursuing.

"It's a way to get a little bit of experience ... and they might find that they like it," Hindman said. "It's also good exercise for kids, too."

A typical camp session starts with a workout that includes running, pushups, sit ups, stretching and jumping jacks.

After swimming, the class learns new skills, including board rescues -- when a lifeguard safely secures a victim with head, back or neck injuries to a board before removing them from a pool.

The class also learned about pool chemistry.

"I definitely want to be a lifeguard," said Ariel Biegel, 11. "I want to help people. I enjoyed everything, especially jumping off the chair."

Carroll, who will be the head instructor for another lifeguard class in August, hopes the class teaches the importance of lifeguards to everyone.

"I want them to see it is not just people sitting in chairs blowing whistles and yelling at kids," Carroll said. "Lifeguards are very important. Even the best swimmers can get hurt."

After a quick break for a snack, the five swimmers were back in the water, retrieving bricks, rescuing each other, jumping off the chair and preparing a demonstration for their parents.

"They're showing all their skills to their parents," Hindman explained. "They'll get little awards at the end."

And as whistles were blown to clear the pool, she added, "They all got whistles, too."

A second session of junior lifeguard camp is scheduled for Aug. 18-22. at Merritt Athletic Club, 1388 Progress Way, Eldersburg, Call Kathy at 410-549-8855, Ext. 115 for more information.


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