A slice of local life -- Lifeguard Leo Dorich keeps watch, keeps humor

Leo Dorich and other lifeguards use floats and other equipment, and help enforce rules. Care to learn first aid or CPR? Call the pool at 541-386-1303.

Photo by Kirby Neumann-Rea.
Leo Dorich and other lifeguards use floats and other equipment, and help enforce rules. Care to learn first aid or CPR? Call the pool at 541-386-1303.

Swimming involves vivid verbs and despite the understated manner of lifeguard Leo Dorich, many of those verbs apply to him.

He jumped right in as a toddler, made a splash at it, dove into his lifeguard class, and this fall he will plunge into international travel.

But the solid action stand ready is the key phrase for Dorich and fellow pool employees at the Hood River Aquatic Center this summer, its busiest season.

Dorich, 22, graduated from Hood River Valley High School in 2010 and is now a math major at University of Oregon. He started lifeguarding at the Aquatic Center in 2006, before he entered high school. He is on track to graduate in 2015 and has no post-graduate plans.

He said math is “a jumping-off point: I’m not planning on teaching or doing research. It’s a diving board.” Dorich is remembered for playing guitar while at HRVHS with the band LEZEL, and he still keeps his hand in music: “More my own thing; playing guitar and bass clarinet. I might minor in music, in which case I might get back into it. I’d like to do so,” he said.

This fall, Dorich turns to another water-borne adventure, this one across oceans. Starting Aug. 20 he sets sail with UO’s Semester at Sea to Russia, Ireland, Ghana and Brazil, and 11 other countries in between.

“I’ll be setting the mathematics aside for a term,” Dorich said, traveling and studying marine science, “but more on social science and global studies.” The students’ last stop will be Cuba. “They haven’t let students in (to Cuba) since 2004, so I’m pretty excited,” he said.

The Hood River pool has been part of his life since the family moved to Hood River 19 years ago. His parents are Debbie and Leon Dorich, and his brother, Peter, an HRVHS senior, also works as a lifeguard at the pool.

“I do enjoy it,” Dorich said. “It’s just fun to do. I like coming in and lifeguarding; yelling at the kids is fun.” He worked all through high school, and now just summers.

Dorich jokes about having a nice-guy face and using “fear and volume” to keep swim kids in line, but it is a job he loves and has kept coming back to for years.

“I took swim lessons here; my mom wanted to pawn me off, and she did it again when I was in the eighth grade and put me in the lifeguard class,” he said. “At the end they passed out applications and I applied right there and came in for an interview and got the job.”

Like all his fellow employees, he alternates between patrolling the deck as lifeguard and teaching swimming lessons. Lifeguards are annually recertified in CPR and re-train as lifeguards every three years.

“I love teaching classes the most; the kids are great. I got started it pretty early on, and have been teaching lessons every year since,” Dorich said. He teaches kids aged 7-10 and gives private lessons to adults. He also does the Mommy and Me classes, for kids aged 3, which is how he got started with his mom, Debbie. (“I remember tidbits of most of my classes; I remember more from the summers as I got higher up.”)

So Dorich knows a thing or two about “getting gills,” that underwater confidence kids get that is a bit of a double-edged phenomena for the swim teacher. He said the biggest challenge in teaching is getting kids to go under water.

“It’s usually a success when they’re under water more times than above,” he said. “They need gills at that point. It’s a good sign that they’re getting comfortable. Getting them to that point is always tough.” But sometimes that success brings a complication.

“It’s a fine line, because if they have gills they really don’t need to listen,” he said. “If I have to yell it’s not going to penetrate the water too well.

“If they’re under water too much and enjoying it too much they come up sputtering and I’m looking at my watch and I can’t remember the last time their head was above water. It would just be easier if they had gills, then they could just stay under all the time.”

He was asked if there is a general fear of water with kids.

“There doesn’t have to be. It can happen from a scare in a swim lesson or they fall off or into the pool at one point and maybe they get scared. But every incident of that I just keep them coming to the pool,” Dorich said. “Maybe they’re a bit wary, but they get their comfort back. We keep them coming.

“You don’t want to reinforce any bad experiences but it’s the ‘get back on the bike’ idea. You just have to keep them coming.”

As lifeguard, Dorich has had to help swimmers on a few occasions, but he has yet to administer CPR.

“I’ve caught them pretty quickly, and there’s some luck to it that it didn’t progress that far (to CPR),” he said. “I have had to perform several saves over the years; almost every lifeguard has them once in awhile.”

One incident from a couple of years ago stands out.

“There were two at one time,” he said. “A girl had fallen off the zip line, and she was a little too young and the deep end scared her and she started struggling and then her sister jumped in right after her and tried to help her, but she wasn’t much help. They both started going under, so I had to jump in and I pushed them both out (of the water). It happened really quick.

“I got them both at once; they were pretty tiny,” he said. “It’s a judgment call but because they were both small enough I didn’t think about it, I knew I could get them with both arms. I’d done it in swim lessons, when I had to move kids around.” Any such save is always documented. “You always want a record of it,” Dorich said, in case of later health complications.

Health and safety happens before anyone gets into the water.

Saving a life is the thing that the pool employees come to work each day ready to do.

“You’re always prepared for it. We’ve all taken the same course; we’re always ready for it,” Dorich said.

Where possible, it’s best to leave such things to those with training. Problems can arise when people who aren’t trained try to help someone who’s drowning, according to Dorich.

“It’s not necessarily obvious, because if you think you can do something you want to be able to do it; but almost always you’re better off having someone who’s trained. In all my swim lessons, I ask my kids, ‘What happens if you see someone struggling in the pool?’ First thing they say is ‘try to help.’ Then you say, ‘No, you want to make sure you tell a lifeguard, tell a parent or somebody.’

“In general as a lifeguard, you’re always looking out for any safety things you can improve on,” he said. “There is a lot of cleaning involved; it’s safety, not just for keeping it look nice, which is always a goal. Seeing hair in the pool, you want to scoop it up, or if there’s garbage on the side of the deck.”

He said lifeguards take turns in each season monitoring chlorine and water chemistry, something it’s best to have just a couple of people seeing to.

What keeps Dorich coming back is partly the love of the job and partly job security.

“It’s the seniority, and I know I can still work and get the hours I want. But I still enjoy it. Maybe at the end of a summer I’m a little burned out on swim lessons, but the next year I’m ready to come back and throw more kids into the pool.”

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