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Lowcountry lifeguards are put to the test at area waterparks

A Game of Thrones

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Picture this: After a long, cold winter you're finally back in your lifeguard chair. The sun is shining, and from high up on your throne you are scanning all the cheerful swimmers below. Suddenly, you see what appears to be a baby facedown in the water. Immediately, you jump in and grab the baby only to discover it's just a doll. And then your supervisor clicks a stopwatch and says, "25 seconds." A sigh of relief washes over you. You still have your job. More importantly, no one was hurt. Everyone is safe. Which is exactly what you're paid to do.

Tyler Boone is a lifeguard supervisor at Whirlin' Waters in North Charleston, and it's his job to keep his fellow lifeguards on their toes by conducting random tests. Boone first started as a lifeguard at Whirlin' Waters when he was 16 years old and weighed a measly 110 pounds. But his size didn't prevent him from rescuing a much larger and intoxicated man who was flailing in the water.

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Boone says he goes to great lengths to weed out the wannabes from the true-blue lifesavers. Sometimes all it takes is a video showing just how important the job is. "It's the young high school kids who just want a tan. They don't realize it's a serious job, and they walk away," Boone says.

Sarah Gilreath, head lifeguard at Splash Island in Mt. Pleasant, got into lifeguarding six years ago. "It's about preventing injury, drowning, and customer service," she says.

Even after extensive training, the first time she saw a drowning person was a real shock. Her first save was a young boy. "From his nose down, he was underwater, but he had the widest eyes," Gilreath recalls. She brought him to shore and made his parents the happiest on earth.

Kevin Rowland, the manager of Whirlin' Waters who started out as a lifeguard in 1998, remembers his first rescue, a 5-year-old boy who got stuck in the deep end. "Most parents don't realize when their kids get in too deep, " he says. Often times, he says that's because they aren't there in the water with their young'uns.

This summer marks Gilreath's last at Splash Island. After this, she's going to college to learn to be a nurse. "My time [at Splash Island] has definitely impacted my decision to go to nursing school," she says. More specifically, she credits the waterpark's first-responder training that taught her splinting, caring for an allergic reaction, and the advanced techniques of opening an airway. Gilreath is not alone. Boone says that he has thought about becoming an EMT.

So for all you rich bastards who are afraid to leave your backyard pools, don't fret. You're in good hands at these Charleston water parks. Call the limo and plan a day trip. And for all you poor schmucks, you don't have to limit yourself to running through the sprinkler. With admission starting at $7.99 at Splash Island, these parks are a real bargain.

Charleston Water Parks

Splash Island Water Park
at Palmetto Islands County Park
General admission, $7.99
Charleston County resident, $6.99
Children under 48", $5.99
Children age 2 and under, free
444 Needlerush Parkway
Mt. Pleasant
(843) 884-0832

Splash Zone Waterpark at James Island County Park
General admission, $11.99
Charleston County resident, $9.99
Children under 48", $8.99
Children age 2 and under, free
Senior (60+) ,$5.99
871 Riverland Drive
Charleston, SC 29412
(843) 795-7275

Whirlin' Waters Adventure Water Park
General admission, $19.99
Children under 48", $14.99
Senior (60+), $6.99
Children age 2 and under, free
8888 University Blvd.
North Charleston
(843) 572-7275

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