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Keeping swimmers safe at Robbins Island: Lifeguards return this year to Willmar beach

Shelby Lindrud / TribuneLifeguards are back on duty at Robbins Island this summer. Guards Easton Syvertson, from left, Eli Nelson, Megan Peterson and Kennedy Holwerda are specially trained to work on the lake.1 / 2
Shelby Lindrud / Tribune Lifeguards Eli Nelson, from left, Kennedy Holwerda and Easton Syvertson keep a close eye on swimmers enjoying Foot Lake in this July 7 photo. There are lifeguards stationed at the Robbins Island beach in Willmar from 1 to 6 p.m. Thursdays through Sundays. 2 / 2

WILLMAR — Lifeguards are back on their perch this year on the beach of Foot Lake at Robbins Island.

City budget cuts removed lifeguards from the beach in 2013, but this summer lifeguards have returned for the 2017 swimming season.

"I was excited to come back to the lake. It is good to have the lifeguards in the park here," said Willmar lifeguard Kennedy Holwerda, 21.

Holwerda, along with fellow lifeguards Megan Peterson, 19, Eli Nelson, 19, and Easton Syvertson, 18, are on duty from 1 to 6 p.m. Thursdays through Sundays at Robbins Island, weather permitting,

"Most people are happy to see we're back," Syvertson said.

All four of the lifeguards who work at Robbins Island have several years of experience and training as lifeguards for Willmar. Holwerda and Nelson have worked on the beach before.

All Willmar lifeguards, both those who work at the Dorothy Olson Aquatic Center and those at the lake, must be certified by the Red Cross. The lake lifeguards also have taken a waterfront certification course that focuses on lifeguarding at beaches. They are taught how to check the bottom of the swimming area, how to understand the current and weather's effect on the water, and how to use the rescue board and other equipment used specifically at lakes.

"Making sure the area is safe to swim in," Holwerda said.

Protecting swimmers at a lake is much different than being a lifeguard at pool. A pool is clear, allowing a lifeguard to see straight to the bottom. A lake's water clarity is usually murky at best.

Water and air temperatures, along with wind speeds, can also have marked effect on a lifeguard's duty.

"In the morning it will be like glass, but by the afternoon it'll be white caps," Peterson said.

With all those uncontrollable aspects, it is really the lake in control.

"In the pool you can control the situation. At the lake you are at the mercy of the lake," Nelson said.

There are usually three lifeguards on duty at the lake. If a rescue is necessary, one guard goes to help the swimmer, the second is there to assist and the third can contact emergency services. At its core, the job of a lake lifeguard is no different than a pool lifeguard.

"Watching the water is number one," Peterson said.

The guards must keep an eye on the swimmers and those on the beach, to make sure the rules are being followed and that everyone is accounted for.

"There is a lot of roughhousing," Syvertson said. Swimmers are also known for hanging on the perimeter buoys or seeing how far out they can swim.

"It was important to get lifeguards back out here," Nelson said.

There have been a lot of people visiting Robbins Island and swimming at the lake so far this summer. Last weekend, including the July 4 holiday, was an especially busy time for the lifeguards.

"The Tuesday of the 4th was the busiest day we've had so far," Peterson said.

While being a lifeguard is a very serious job, that doesn't mean there are not perks.

"I like being a lifeguard, you get to sit by a pool or lake, get some sun with the added benefit of helping people," Peterson said.

Being a lifeguard is also a job that will keep one engaged.

"Nothing is the same. You can work one day and the next day is completely different," Holwerda said.

Another benefit of being the lifeguards at the lake is having the opportunity to be where all the action is. With the Destination Playground recently opened and the city focusing on making Robbins Island a regional center of recreation, the lifeguards have definitely seen an increase in use and excitement.

"Robbins Island is the place to be," Holwerda said.