RLSS UK Ireland Branch Secretary, Graham Cullen. An Oceanographic Engineer for Techworks Marine in Ireland, Graham spends his time “measuring the ocean”, providing marine scientific data to major infrastructural projects, like ports. He credits a lifetime in lifesaving for helping him get to where he is today. 

“It’s fair to say that with a mother who volunteered as a lifesaving instructor, my fate was sealed when I was just three-years-old, as she took me along to play in the ‘baby pool’. Now, over three decades later and I am giving back to a wonderful organisation that has given me so much throughout my life. 

I had a lot of fun progressing from the ‘baby pool’ into the ‘big pool’ and down to the deep end all the while learning lifesaving and how to swim. The club events throughout the year were always something to look forward to, including the club lifesaving competition, colouring competitions and meeting Santa at Christmas  

I then moved on to start lane swimming, eventually achieving my Bronze Medallion, which led to me getting a job at swimming pool for people with disabilities. It was at this time that my volunteering began, I started shadowing the teachers in my club and I started training to be a Lifesaving Trainer Assessor. 

At university I remember my first night training with the water Polo team. As the fastest swimmer in my lifesaving club, it came as a shock to find myself the second slowest swimmer there! I got chatting to the slowest swimmer and found out that he was a member of our rival lifesaving club! I quickly realised that there was room for improvement in my own lifesaving club. 

There were a number of instances like that, like the first time I was doing the council swim test to be a beach lifeguard; I swam the timed swim with my head up because that is how I had been trained in my club, needless to say I was quite slow compared to everyone else who swam with the heads down! Luckily, I was offered a few weeks of work as a beach lifeguard towards the end of that summer and I was introduced to surf lifesaving sport. I began training with the other beach lifeguards and that is when my passion for lifesaving and lifeguarding, really started to take off. 

At university, I became Treasurer of the Water Polo and Swimming Club, President of the Irish University Swimming and Water Polo Association, and manager of our National University Swimming and Water Polo team, all of which prepared me for a greater volunteering role in my own club.  

My main goal was to secure an easy transition for the next generation of lifesavers and lifeguards, guiding them through their progression from the ‘baby pool’, to becoming a qualified lifeguard or competitor on our national lifesaving team.  

Quickly realising I couldn’t train everyone in the club myself, I started training members, ex-members and parents, to be Survive & Save instructors whilst I became Treasurer of the club and Secretary of the Ireland Branch. 

All of my lifesaving experience has really helped me in my career as an Oceanographic Engineer; for one, I really feel that all of my time spent on surf rescue training has helped me to avoid getting seasick on operations! The skills I gained coiling ropes every week, are beneficial when I’m working on the boats, and the experience I gained through the Committee roles, help in my role as Field Team Manager, managing a small team of field engineers and scientists. 

I’ve had an amazing journey through lifesaving over the past three decades of my life. I get an overwhelming sense of happiness and pride, when I witness the excitement of a young lifesaver as they release the side in deep end for the first time, or perform a straddle jump without getting their head wet. It is all the more rewarding to have an Instructor that I trained, tell me of the same feelings they have, in seeing their young lifesavers improve their skills.  

Why do I volunteer? Because I want to ensure that the next generations receive an even better opportunity than I did.”