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'Lifeguard Grandma' comes out of retirement at 70 to save people amid national staffing shortage

She explained that her motivation to come out of retirement is to give kids a safe place to spend time during the summer months.

'Lifeguard Grandma' comes out of retirement at 70 to save people amid national staffing shortage
Cover Image Source: YouTube/NBC News

A 70-year-old Pennsylvania grandmother has come out of retirement to help keep her city pools safe during the nationwide lifeguard staffing shortage. Robin Borlandoe—better known as "Lifeguard Grandma" in her community—is now working as a lifeguard for the city of Philadelphia after answering the city's desperate call to address a lifeguard shortage. According to WTXF-TV, Borlandoe was 16 years old when she first became a lifeguard in Kingsessing in the late 1960s. Speaking to NBC News, the grandmother of six revealed that she "loved" the job as a teen and decided to get back on the lifeguard stand with a whistle in hand now, 54 years later, to lend a helping hand amid staffing challenges.


"I decided to finally do it to do something for our kids, our community," Borlandoe explained. According to The Philadelphia Inquirer, she pursued a long career in the health field and took some time off to care for sick relatives before responding to the Parks and Recreation Department's recruiting campaign for more lifeguards. This summer, city officials were scrambling to open Philadelphia’s public pools. The shortage of lifeguards is a countrywide issue, exacerbated by the COVID-19 epidemic and a hyper-competitive job market in which younger individuals who normally fill seasonal employment have many more alternatives. 


Cities all throughout the country worked hard to fill vacancies and Philly was able to open 50 of its 65 pools thanks to a robust recruiting push and an offer of better compensation than in previous years. "It's been a journey," Borlandoe said. "The call of what's been going on in the city. We're in a bad spot and I just wanted to do something." However, it wasn't easy for her to get back on the lifeguard stand. She revealed that training has become much more intense since her last time on the job. In Philadelphia, lifeguards must pass a rigorous exam that includes laps, treading water and retrieving a brick from the bottom of a pool to qualify for the position.


However, determined to help the city in its time of need, Borlandoe was up for the challenge. She was one of around 16 seniors aged 50 and higher who were hired to help open more pools this season. "Anyone that knows me would not be surprised that I'm going to do this," she said. Although some of her younger counterparts have been miffed about news outlets focusing on Borlandoe's age when reporting her story, she considers it an opportunity to flip the narrative on aging and demonstrate how elders can serve as role models and help young people shape their lives.


Part of Borlandoe's motivation to come out of retirement is to give kids a safe place to spend time during the summer months. "They have no place to go," she explained. "Pools are closed all around." She believes it is important to keep pools open amid the violence currently impacting Philadelphia and other cities nationwide. At least 100 children under the age of 18 have been shot in the city this year alone. One shooting occurred right outside Borlandoe's own home, claiming the lives of three young boys. "When you see it, it's scary and it's very sad," she said.


Her goal, Borlandoe explained, "was just to do something, no matter how small, to help out." She hopes she can inspire even more people to become lifeguards. "I'm very much committed to this," she said. "This is my reputation. This is my community."

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