A SWIMMING LIFEGUARD’S WORLD

Summertime and Danie Engels have a lot in common as the 10 month swimming season in Windhoek gets underway.

Engels is Namibia’s most experienced lifeguard and is based at Olympia Swimming Pool. For 15 years, he has known the sacredness of Namibian pools like the back of his hand.

Of late he has also been doubling as the administrator of the pool although he still harbours that life-saving adrenalin rush.

Engels elaborates the importance of lifeguards at swimming pools as that of saving and securing lives as well as preventing injuries through administering and enforcing facility rules and keeping swimmers disciplined.

Windhoek’s most premier pool in Olympia was established in May 2005, after its predecessor at Maerua Mall was removed to pave way for the expansion of the mall. He still has strong and fresh emotions of his experiences at Maerua Mall swimming pool when a tragedy happened.

“It was around 1998 at Maerua Mall swimming pool. The pool had a 10 metre diving tower that swimmers would dive into the water.

A 14 year old swimmer lost his balance while standing seven metres on the diving tower and smashed his head on the corner of the pool ,” he says, narrating how the teenage swimmer’s lost his life.

At 55, Engles knows the benefits and drawbacks of being a lifeguard. He speaks of the positives and negatives of living and working by the water-side and most of his advice is against recklessness of the swimmers.

Being a lifeguard requires hard work and unwavering diligence, as lives hang in their balance, he says.

It is a responsibility that requires the practise of mundane routines that are intended to maintain a state of constant vigilance.

“There are not many lifeguards around Windhoek’s two major pools, and those that are there, know what is expected of them and always give their all when duty calls,” says the veteran swimmer.

When asked about the benefits of being a lifeguard, the former pre-independent Namibia military officer enjoys the fraternal bonds of his co-workers and the ability to help others, a natural profession for a person of his moral character.

“This is a public place and any person who does not behave within the prescribed rules will be kicked out because we want everyone to feel safe and protected when they are here.”

According to him, swimming pools have become the hub of unruly behaviour over the years, due to the fun associated with it.

“Elderly people come here under the influence of alcohol kissing or to drink by the pool side, others like physical hobbies near the water, others prefer being intimate and start harassing others, fighting, or doing improper things such as intimate kissing inside the water, all this in disrespect of the security personnel or lifeguards at the pool,” he says.

Many times in summer, the City Police have been called to instil order or make arrests at the pool, “all this as part of attempts to save lives of people near the water.”

For Engles, good swimmers are disciplined and have respect for lifeguards because they know their worth.

His lifesaving equipment includes a First Aid kit that contains an oxygen mask, rescue blanket, bandages, hand gloves and other small items.

There are two pools at Olympia, one for adults and the other for children and the water levels vary from 1.5m to 4m for adults and up one metre for children.

The administration section of the pool is on an elevated ground where the lifeguards have a bird’s eye view of both pools.

He urges parents to send their children for swimming lessons at the pool but warns that children under the age of 10 without an elderly person accompanying them and without floating tubes could be risky.

“Floating tubes prevent children that are learning to swim from drowning and I would encourage parents not to take risks and have their kids well prepared before they send them to the swimming pool. It is one of life’s adventure prerequisite to teach your child how to swim, as much as you teach the kid how to cook. ”

People from all age groups, colour and creed come to the pool. He says he loves it more when pensioners come for a swim.

“They are so particular with that they do in the water,” he says.

A large number of pregnant women also frequent the pool and Engles says swimming is a secret, healthy not only for the mother but for the unborn child and promotes good delivery.

“They say the best exercise a pregnant woman can do is swimming and we try to give them special attention when they are here,” he says.

Since the opening of the Olympia swimming pool in 2005 no deaths have been recorded - thanks to the ever ready lifeguards.

“There have been numerous incidents of near misses but luckily no drowning at this pool. However one major incident occurred last year when a three year old child nearly drowned. The child was unconscious when lifeguards pulled her out of the water, with virtually no sign of life in her,” he adds.

However with the experience he has acquired over the years and, with the help of a fellow lifeguard George Nghidileko, Engels performed a Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation better known as CPR to save the child.

A father of two girls, Danie Engels has a Lifeguard Diploma from the Dresslhaus Schwimmshchule (Germany). He is well-known for his strict adherence on the appropriate swim-wear that Olympia Swimming pool has become known for.

He also loves the water, the beach at the coast and the lifestyle associated with it.

Whenever he goes out at the coast, Engles prefers camping alongside the beach, no doubt, having gotten accustomed to his days guarding the Windhoek pools.

Besides the drawback of being divorced for 16 years now, he condemns those with little respect for the water.

At N$6 for adults and N$4 for children as entrance fees at the Olympia pool, Engels concludes that swimming is quite affordable and should be part of Namibia’s summer culture, away from alcohol intake and unhealthy habits.

“Swimming is sports and leisure at the same time, we want our pools to be a place of fun for everyone, irrespective of their backgrounds, and hence I urge every person coming here to come with a swimming spirit and nothing else.”PF