A WaterWorld Story
I’ve seen some people tell stories of their experiences at AstroWorld in Houston, Texas so I thought I’d represent WW with one.
As a child, I lived near the city park. It had basketball courts, tennis courts, baseball fields, and lots of other things a kid would love, but most importantly, it had a pool.
I spent long hours there every summer. I didn’t know how to swim so I stayed in the shallow end.
Over time, I taught myself how to swim a little. A big thing for small kids at the pool was swimming across the deep end. I never went with my friends because I didn’t trust myself.
After some practice, I thought that I could make it across the deep end, so one day when my friends went, I joined in.
At the deep end, we were all lined up on the side of the pool. At once, everybody went in. I waited on the side of the pool until everybody was out of my way, then I jumped in and began swimming across.
About halfway, I felt someone tugging on my legs. A kid had ended up behind me and was now antagonizing me by pulling my legs as I tried to swim.
That’s the last thing I remember.
In a small way, I know how it feels to die from drowning. I blacked out and it was painless.
The next recollection I have is of coming to while sitting on the side of the pool, next to the lifeguard stand.
I almost drowned as a child and a beautiful lifeguard saved me from sure death. A few years later, she taught a lifeguarding class and I enrolled.
I did well in the class and made an impression on that beautiful lifeguard, Sheree’. I worked a bit at this small pool in Louisiana as a lifeguard.
I didn’t know this, but Sheree’ had moved to Houston and was working at WaterWorld as a Lifeguard Supervisor. One day, I received a call from Sheree’s sister telling me that Sheree’ wanted me to come to Houston to work at WallyWorld, as we called it.
My sister already lived in Houston, so I was able to arrange sleeping space on her couch for the summer. I moved to Houston and began my career as a lifeguard.
When I first arrived at the park, I met Joni Waggoner, who was in charge of personnel and training. My first day of training, I saw the wave pool. For the first few days of training, that was all I saw of the park.
I knew my aquatic skills were up to par or else I wouldn’t have been recruited. But lifeguard training at WaterWorld’s wave pool for the first time could be intimidating.
I think the training was 3 days long and for my final test out, I had to rescue Jeff Ellis, without equipment. That was the funny part. We had trained all of this time with rescue equipment like a tube or a can, then we had to make a rescue of a physically struggling, very large man with nothing but our skills.
I used the Underwater Approach, where you go underwater, grab a person’s knees, spin them around to where you’re now behind them, then you climb their body and put them in a cross-chest carry position.
The scoring system was on a 5 point scale. After the rescue was over, Jeff held up his hand with all 5 fingers up and I scored a 5 out of 5 for my rescue.
After CPR training, I was assigned to the Lagoon. Before I could start, I had to undergo a training that was specifically about the Lagoon.
I heard that Sheree’ had specifically asked that I work at the Lagoon under a Head Guard named Jim Wilson.
That first summer, 1984, I made some rescues, got a tan, had some laughs, threw Jimbo off of the rock at the Lagoon, got a nickname, Spiderman which was shortened to Spider, and made friends that I still have over 35 years later.
The next summer, they changed the screening process to be a deep water guard. They added treading water with a 10 pound brick. I was so skinny, with no body fat to help me float that I couldn’t do it.
They allowed me to go through deep water training but said that I’d have to pass the brick before I could guard at the Lagoon or Wave Pool.
This was a major setback in my guarding career at WaterWorld. So I started off the summer of 1985 guarding at the Activities or otherwise called Slides.
Jim Wilson, my previous Head Guard, was now a Supervisor. At the beginning of the summer, there were no Head Guards yet, so the supervisors ran all of the pools and activities. Jim was running activities, where I was assigned.
I started helping Jim run things and soon I knew the system better than anybody. A very short time later, I was promoted to Head Guard of Activities.
At this time, there was only a Day Shift and Night Shift Head Guard of the pools and activities. I was the Night Shift Head Guard of all of the Activities. I will add here that the next summer they divided activities into 2 areas with 2 HG’s and not just one. So my first summer as a HG, I was doing the job of 2 people.
Most days, I was in charge of 50+ guards. I was always an organized person and handling lots of personnel and paperwork came as second nature to me. I was a good orator, so I conducted nightly meetings well and with some fun.
A few weeks later, it was announced that the 3 best Head Guards in the park would be competing for a supervisor position. I was named one of the 3 best.
The two people doing the interviewing for the supervisor position worked for Jeff Ellis. I knew Elise and Rennick from training, so I felt comfortable going into the interview.
The 2 other Head Guards I was competing against already had older brothers that were supervisors, so the odds were against me.
When I went into the interview, I wasn’t cocky or arrogant, but I did say that I would be a supervisor at the park, whether it was now or in the future.
I ended up hearing through Jimbo that “The Dark Horse was winning in the interviews.” I was obviously the Dark Horse.
I ended up getting the promotion. Also, I learned the egg-beater kick and passed the brick screening.
When I failed the brick the first time and was demoted from deep water guard, that could have been a big downer, but I seized upon the opportunity to showcase my leadership and management skills and it paid off. In one short month, I failed the brick, was demoted, then promoted to Head Guard and promoted to Supervisor.
I went on to work as a Water Safety Supervisor and Park Supervisor for 13 years and was a 13 time Lifeguard Champion, with 9 of those being State Championships. I’m wearing the safari hat.
WaterWorld went on to win 15 Lifeguard Championships in 10 straight years. With 10 straight Texas State Championships. I was on the team from the beginning of our win streak and for most of the wins. I’m holding some Blue Ribbons in the pic below.
AstroWorld/WaterWorld gave thousands their first taste of a real job and what it takes to succeed in life. Many have gone on to great careers and accomplished many great things due to their first experiences while working at the parks.
I experienced that old adage that when one door closes another may open. The brick shut me down and my management skills made me a blue tag and a champion lifeguard.
If you’re interested in reading about my experiences while working at WaterWorld in the summers and AstroWorld in the Fall and Spring then check out my book, “Lifeguarding at a Waterpark.”
You can find all 3 of my books at…