Saving Robin Kiefer – A Lifeguarding Story

It Could Happen To Anyone – Even “Big, Hard Heroes”

A few weeks ago, I wrote how Stacey Kiefer and I become accidental lifeguards, saving a distressed boater from drowning. I suspect many swimmers out there have also been able to help others escape near-drowning situations – thanks for all you do!

Last night Stacey and I watched the film “127 Hours”, the incredible true story of Aron Ralston, an adventurer forced to severe his arm to escape certain death during a solo canyoning hike gone wrong. During the film, Ralston realizes he failed to tell anyone about his hiking destination (preventing any rescue efforts) due to his conceit from being a “big, hard hero.”

This really resonated with me. Getting in serious trouble can happen to anyone – and it happened to me.

Taking Water And Life For Granted

Robin Spencer Kiefer, Age 6
Robin Kiefer, Age 6

In Kiefer family culture, survival swimming isn’t discussed because its a foregone conclusion. All Kiefers swim and we don’t wear life vests in open water.

I learned to swim when I was 2 – and many would argue that my speed never increased since then.

In any case, I was raised to be fearless in water.

Perhaps that’s how I found myself body surfing alone at Gillson beach in Wilmette, Illinois at the ripe old age of 6.

Surf’s Up & I’m Down

I’d heard my father, Jack Kiefer, talk about body surfing before. He told me that big waves made for the best body surfing.

So one wavy summer day, I managed to slip away undetected from a large family picnic at Gillson park, to chase big waves at the beach.

The lake was warm and wavy, and I quickly learned to take advantage of the large and long breaking waves that rolled into the beach. The liberating feeling of swimming without parents and the thrill of body surfing were a potent combination. I repeatedly rode waves to shore and headed back out to deeper water for more entertainment.

Don’t Try This At Home – Or Anywhere Else!

Gillson Beach
Gillson Beach

It didn’t take long for me to grow tired frolicking in the heavy surf, and I began to struggle in the larger waves that formed as I drifted to new areas of the beachfront.

A large breaking wave pushed me deep underwater. I fought my way to the surface just as another huge way smashed down, driving me to the depths below again, and again.

I struggled, panicked, and blacked out.

The Lifeguard – My Savior

I regained consciousness, opened my eyes, and stared up into the face of my rescuer, a comparatively giant female guard with blond hair – wearing a bright red lifeguard swimsuit.

She carried me to shore and deposited me directly into the arms of my horrified father, who had just arrived at the scene with my mother.

Needless to say, I was done swimming for the day.

The Most Important Swim Lesson

I never got the name of the lifeguard that day. I’ll never forget her, the renewed lease on life she gave me, and the important lesson I learned that day.

No matter what age, never let your feelings of expertise overrule the need for basic safety precautions.

Ignoring common sense could cause you to learn the toughest lesson – one that is not uncommonly taught to the “big, hard hero.”

– Robin Spencer Kiefer

Check out my recent thoughts about open water swim safety and how I became an accidental lifeguard.

I know I’m not the only one out there to have been saved – I’d love to hear your comments.

About Robin Kiefer

Robin Kiefer is the Grandson of Adolph Kiefer, the Founder of Kiefer Swim Products. Today Kiefer Swim Products is a multifaceted company focused on serving the aquatic industry, lifeguards, and swimmers.

4 Comments on “Saving Robin Kiefer – A Lifeguarding Story”

  1. Wonderful story. You and your family’s work is to be complemented and cherished. I was a lifeguard and WSI instructor for many years. In fact I was the youngest lifeguard in the history of Martin County Florida. Hired at 16. Think I still have a few tattered pairs of red Birdwells that I can still fit into. Wish I could find an old Pete Peterson bouy never was a fan of the can. Best Hunter

  2. Thanks for saving this life saving story. I teach swim lessons and I’ll be sure to share this with those learning to swim of ALL ages.

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