Lifeguards to the rescue

By MELISSA DIPENTO

You certainly didn’t need a thermometer late last month to know just how agonizingly hot it was outside. On July 21, the mercury climbed up to 98 degrees in Cherry Hill, marking the fifth-straight day of 90-plus degree temperatures.

The best way to cool off when you’re breaking a serious sweat? Take a dip in one of Cherry Hill’s 13 pools.

That’s just what one resident did.

A female swimmer was enjoying the pool at the Woodcrest Swim Club that afternoon when off-duty lifeguard Garrett Clayman spotted her hanging onto a rope in the pool.

“She told me she was hot, and I said, ‘Yeah, it is hot,’”Clayman said.

Suddenly, he realized the woman did not look well and asked the woman if she needed to be rescued.

Clayman immediately blew his whistle three times to signal that help was needed and jumped into the pool.

Another lifeguard, Lisa Segrest, was giving swim lessons one lane over and immediately responded to the woman. Lifeguards Gregory Slaton and Adam Cohler then helped Clayman pull the woman over to the wall and onto a backboard.

By then, the swim club’s assistant manager Robert Smith rushed over. The four lifeguards told him the woman needed 911 assistance. The lifeguards then carried the woman on the backboard to an air-conditioned room. Minutes later, an ambulance showed up to take her to the hospital.

Smith said the woman has now fully recovered and is doing fine.

Smith, the manager on duty that day, said he was proud of the young lifeguards’ response to the swimmer in need. He said most of the lifeguards on staff grew up coming to the swim club, giving their camaraderie that close-knit, family feeling.

“It was impressive. It will definitely be something I will remember forever,” Smith said.

The lifeguards are licensed and go through training each year to stay certified. They also practice drills on a weekly basis to prepare for situations like these. Even though the lifeguards routinely practice emergency drills, they had never faced anything like this.

Second-year lifeguard Clayman, who will be a junior this fall at Cherry Hill East, said he had the instinct to act immediately that day.

“Even though we were trained for this, while it was happening, my instincts just kicked in. You’re just jumping in and you have to save someone,” Clayman said.

Cohler, who will also be a junior at East this fall, said he knew just what to do when he heard the whistle.

“All the training, at first, I was nervous,” Cohler said. “But when it actually happened, I was focused, and I kept my composure.”

Mayor Bernie Platt got word of the four lifeguards’ emergency rescue and decided to publicly honor them.

At last week’s council meeting, Platt thanked the four young lifeguards for their quick thinking and heroic actions.

Clayman said he was especially touched by the kind words the mayor had for him and his fellow lifeguards.

He said he was thankful to have the opportunity to help another person in this way and was proud to be recognized for it.

“Most people don’t have the opportunity to save someone’s life. I’m fortunate to be put in that position, and I knew what to do,” Clayman said. “It really wasn’t just me.”

Cohler said he was also appreciative of the mayor’s decision to honor the group.

“It feels really good. I helped save a life. I felt really honored,” Cohler said.

Smith said he is thankful the woman is back to full health, but also recognizes that the rescue can be a good reminder to others.

“I think it’s good for the guards at my club and good for all clubs. We know we are there to save lives,” Smith said. “It’s a reminder that if it happens at Woodcrest, it could happen anywhere.”