Austin’s oldest lifeguard, Leslie Botts, is watching out for you.
By Gretchen M. Sanders, Photos by Courtney Runn
No one blinked when Leslie Botts applied to become a City of Austin lifeguard. At age 70, the retired schoolteacher looks fit enough to compete in the Olympics. When a lifeguard shortage hit Austin’s pools last summer, Botts, a regular at the Barton Springs and Deep Eddy pools, knew she could handle the job.
After completing a 40-hour Red Cross lifeguard-certification course, Botts faced a grueling skills test from the City.
“I had to swim out 20 yards, dive down 15 feet to retrieve a 10-pound brick and swim back holding it to my chest,” Botts says. “It took a lot of strength.”
She also had to perform water rescues, tread water for two minutes without using her arms and swim nonstop for 300 yards. In May, Botts began working nearly 10-hour shifts at Northwest, Bartholomew, Balcones, Walnut Creek and Deep Eddy pools. Aloft in her lifeguard chair, she scans the water for trouble, reminds children not to run on the pool deck and blows her whistle when thunder threatens. She has yet to have to perform a water rescue.
The oldest of the City’s 650 or so lifeguards, Botts works alongside teenagers, university students and other retirees. Representatives at Austin’s Aquatics Division say harder economic times in recent years have sparked the hiring of cash-strapped older guards to fill gaps left by college-age recruits.
Botts, who works partly to earn money but mostly to nourish her love for the water, doesn’t focus on her age.
“People have a preconceived notion of what age is all about,” she says. “Since when do we not do things because they’re too hard or we’re too old?”
Here’s how pool patrol keeps Botts in life-saving form.
“My golden retriever, Giovanni, wakes me up around 7:30 a.m. I get up, have two glasses of water and do my yoga practice. Then I eat breakfast and walk Giovanni for a mile. After that, it’s lunch time.”
“I swim three-quarters to a mile at Deep Eddy or Barton Springs three to four times a week. In addition to my own daily yoga practice, I teach two weekly classes at Yoga Yoga and instruct private clients in their homes. I also lift weights at LA Fitness once a week. Weight-bearing exercise is not my favorite thing, but I do it for strength. I’m big into yardwork and doing everything I can to keep up my house. I try to limit my lifeguarding schedule to four shifts per week.”
“I like to eat fresh, organic produce, poultry and seafood. I have an allergy to corn, so I can’t have corn derivatives or anything boxed or processed. I shop for fresh food at Natural Grocers several times per week and cook most of my own food at home. I make a good veggie stir fry with tofu. I avoid sugar and coffee and most restaurants. If I don’t eat this way, then I feel bad. I enjoy a glass of wine occasionally but most desserts are out. Surprisingly, Häagen-Dazs ice cream only has a few ingredients, so I eat it!”
“I wear a red one-piece lifeguard swimsuit underneath red shorts and a white T-shirt. I also wear a whistle and a fanny pack that contains gloves and a breathing mask for CPR. I keep my hat, polarized sunglasses and sunscreen nearby. No shoes allowed. I must be ready to jump in.”
“I love the water and the sense of connectedness with my community that I get through lifeguarding. The physical part of the job makes me feel good too. I want to be around for a long time. I have to take care of myself.”
“Have tenacity. You can do it, and it’s going to be good.”
“I usually lie in bed thinking of all the things I accomplished during the day—plus the things I didn’t do. There’s always tomorrow.”