Published: 04 May 2022

Felicity Cornelius-Mercer urges anyone to take their time and try the NPLQ

Felicity, wife of MP Johnny Mercer, admitted that she was "your head above water old lady breaststroke stereotype". However, she started 2022 determined (with her daughter's encouragement) to learn how to swim properly, rounding it off with training for her National Pool Lifeguard Qualification (NPLQ). Read about how she and her cohort of potential lifeguards got on with the training below.

"Whistle, whistle, whistle… lifeguard going in". This is a sentence that will only mean something to those of you who have done your lifeguard training. Which I am now proud to say I have done and completed!

It felt like a big ambition when I made my New Year’s resolution for 2022; going from old lady breaststroke to successfully completing my National Pool Lifeguard Qualification. I was envisioning a long road ahead but what I actually found was a surprisingly short road to success. With some decent training that I gradually built up; I managed to complete my goal by April but it felt that I have come a very long way. In short; manageable even for a mediocre swimmer like me.

Like so many things in life, the course itself was only intimidating until the moment you actually turned up. Greeted by my instructor and a room full of eager students, I introduced myself, broke the ice by announcing that I needed a wee, found the nearest loo, and was good to go.

It is a pretty intensive course and you start to understand why as the full responsibility of being able to pull someone from the water and attempt to save their life hits you. But not in an "oh golly I could never do that" way but rather in an "oh thank goodness I will know how to do that" way. Something that really everybody should be able to do. What is a week of your life in a classroom if you can keep someone alive long enough for the emergency services to take over? As my instructor Ben so brilliantly put it – we are just buying them time and keeping them in the game.

So instructor Ben – what can I say about him - instantly likeable – which helps when you are stuck with someone for 8 hours a day for the next week. Professional but with a keen sense of fun – again helpful with hours of slide shows!  But crucially with a huge sense of pride and responsibility in the knowledge he is imparting. And wow is he knowledgeable; honed from years of teaching and experience on the job; someone who you feel confident knows exactly what he is talking about and can relate every scenario on paper to a real-life story. The context he brings to the learning process is invaluable. Ben expertly guided us through 5 hours of classroom and 2 hours of pool work a day with the patience of a saint. We were under no illusions – this man is not leaving anyone behind and we are all leaving here as competent lifeguards.

Of course, I have to mention my fellow students – it was such a lovely mix of age ranges and abilities but all striving for a common goal. Students wanting to be able to get holiday jobs, some with a swimming background and some not; an aspiring DJ (shout out to Velocetech) wanting a backup gig;  leisure receptionists with unflappable customer service skills but wanting to add practical skills to progress in the leisure industry; a swimming instructor wanting to enhance her skill set and then me: for no other reason that to strive for something worthwhile whilst on a journey to improve my swimming.

If you asked the group ‘what were we most worried about?’ the answer would be freezing up in a crisis. What if we learnt all this info on first aid, pool management, lifeguard duties, saving techniques, and then a scenario happened in real life, and we just stood there and panicked? Because you can’t really test each other for those reactions in a classroom or a role-play environment? Ben had the perfect answer (of course!) – I will train you to be ‘outstanding’ so that in a real-life crisis, if you do panic, you will only drop down to ‘competent’. 

He wasn’t kidding either – we even had to memorise the exact sequence of words to tell the emergency services and that way, in a real crisis the important words… unconscious… not breathing… need a defibrillator…. will still come out.

The other part we were all worried about was the pool work and the timed swims but we all ended up saying from the first pool session that this was the part we enjoyed the most and found the most satisfying. Not only being able to complete the timed swims but to work as a team to lift and save casualties from the pool. It also built the sense of team that we needed to feel invested in each other; we were going to pass this course as a team, come hell or high water!

All in all, it was a brilliant experience, in a wonderful and welcoming venue. I would urge anyone, especially those that are not confident with their swimming like me (or diving – some did the course and learnt to dive on it) to start at a slow base in your own time and build up to a course, to really feel that sense of achievement. The course is not only a skill set learnt but it is validation that your hard work has paid off and you have turned it into something tangible.

That sense of achievement doesn’t come around very often so I am going to cherish mine.  Not only am I a qualified lifeguard now but I have fundamentally changed my relationship with swimming. No more head above water and dry hair for me. I am now a full-on diving, sprinting, shouting, straddle jumping, scooping up dummies from the bottom, flipping people over, getting heads in vice grips type swimmer and I couldn’t be prouder. A few months of training and one week’s course is all it took. I will never go back to being a timid swimmer ever again. I may still be only a mediocre swimmer but at least now I’m a mediocre swimmer with the skills to help if needed, possibly even save a life, and that to me is a huge win.

Of course, I hope I will never need to use my new skills but if I do, then I am ready... "Whistle, whistle, whistle… lifeguard going in".

Felicity Mercer - Lifeguards

Dedicated to my new friends and fellow lifeguards:

Back: Niamh, Emma, Connor, Sarah, Lis, Seb

Middle: Me, Ella, Liv, Jess, Fliss

Front: Ben

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