Maui Connections

Boy, some guys aren’t taking this aging thing lying down, I thought last week as I passed the War Memorial ballfields and noticed all the white ponytails peeking out under baseball caps. It was the Hawaii State Senior Softball Tournament, presented by the Maui County Parks and Recreation Department and Kaunoa Senior Services.

This was the 43rd year for the colorful tribute to the ageless boys of summer. I did my own variation on the theme a couple of Fridays ago in response to an item in the paper announcing tryouts for pool lifeguard trainees. Considering that my age equaled the combined total of any three, maybe four other candidates who showed up at Sakamoto Pool, it might be reasonable to ask: What was I thinking?

Despite feeling like I was auditioning to play the old guy in the red trunks trying to keep up with the buff “Baywatch” babe loping along the beach in slow motion in the E*Trade TV ad, there was, in fact, a method to this senior moment madness.

Being one of the regulars at Upcountry Pool in Pukalani – or as we think of it, the Chapel of the Open Sky, since our exercise is spiritual as well as physical — I thought maybe I could help with the frequent staff shortages that force closures of parts of the pool at various times in the day.

The tryout consisted of a written civil service test. If you passed that, you did the swim test — 300 yards in less than 10 minutes. Pass that, and you moved on to the interview.

The “one-stop” tryout was the brainstorm of Cynthia Razo in the county Department of Personnel Services, Pool Manager Duke Sevilla told me.

“It was a real fast way to get people in,” he explained. Letting the county Aquatics Division hire trainees in a hurry also leveled the economic playing field for candidates who might have a hard time with the costs of Red Cross lifesaving accreditation.

Country personnel worker Chelsea Bukewihge was extremely helpful just getting me in to take the test, since I had missed the deadline for filing online. Another personnel worker, Lisa Dang-Fujishi, graciously answered my questions when I called the office a few days later.

The entire encounter left me feeling — are you ready for this? — positive about dealing with county bureaucracy. Unlike glum folks behind counters making you feel like they’re doing you a favor just talking to you, everyone I dealt with knew their jobs were to serve the public, knowledgeably, efficiently and without blaming their computers whenever anything went wrong. Doing it cheerfully sealed the deal.

For me, the written exam was the hard part. It’s been a while since I actually held a wooden No. 2 pencil in my hand or had to fill in bubbles on an answer sheet. Trying to read tiny type is challenging enough anymore — much less wondering if you can make it through the exam without needing a bathroom break.

After that, the swim test was a piece of cake.

Around 25 people responded to the announcement, and about half made it through the test, Duke told me. The county’s pool manager since 2008, he has been involved with local swimming for decades in numerous capacities, including certifying most of the lifeguard captains on county beaches.

The trainees who are chosen will get on-the-job training in lifesaving skills, CPR, emergency medical response, water safety instruction, pool and water quality maintenance, disaster relief and more. The goal is to quickly meet Red Cross certification standards, where the swim test is a little farther, a little faster, followed by a six-month probation period.

Around five new guards will be hired to supplement the 36 now working at pools on Maui and Molokai.

Going through the first step of the screening helped me appreciate the range of skills Maui’s guards possess to keep us safe and keep the pools sparkling. It was also a great reminder of what a valuable resource Maui’s pools are. They serve a demographic from babies getting their first swim lessons to seniors in water exercise classes, not to mention all the swim clubs and teams.

Making everyone water safe is essential on an island. Throw in the fact that recreational and lap swimming are free — something I’ve never encountered in any pool on the Mainland — and the tax dollars feel incredibly well spent.

By the way, I passed the test . . . but when I realized it would entail actually showing up for a real job, I was happy to give up my space on the list.

* Rick Chatenever, award-winning columnist and former entertainment and features editor of The Maui News, is a freelance journalist, instructor at UH-Maui College and documentary scriptwriter/producer. Contact him at rickchatenever@gmail.com.

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