By Chris Stone
Twelve-year-old Erika Pfister stood on the Ocean Beach Pier, a daunting 35 feet above the water, her toes at the edge of a platform.
“Just take a step. It’s only a step,” lifeguards encouraged her. Her parents and lifeguards were at her side urging her to finish her Junior Lifeguard program with the traditional plunge.
Erika took a step and cheers erupted from the pier and fellow classmates in the water.
Youngsters in the San Diego Junior Lifeguard program finished their big challenge Monday with a splash as they faced their fears, taking as much as a 40-foot leap of faith.
There were some tears, nervous jiggling and pleas to leave the pier, but 99 percent of the 550 participants put their toes on the end of the platform and caught a wave of courage, officials said.
“We’re so proud of her,” said Erika’s father, Dick, of La Jolla. “She was nervous, but she made it through. We’re really happy for her.”
What made her finally take the step?
“I think the confidence that her mom has always instilled in her has really helped, and having someone like a lifeguard alongside of her really kept her mind off of it,” Pfister said. “It’s been really exciting. It’s a great, great course for them.”
And they were off to watch another daughter jump in the class for younger kids, whose jump was from 15 feet. The oldest kids went from 40 feet off the end of the T-shaped pier’s northern section. (The middle group plunged from a spot near the cafe.)
The parental encouragement scene played out several times as anxious children got through another of life’s moments that require intestinal fortitude.
And it made for special moments between family members as mothers and fathers joined their children in the leap.
What helped the children persevere?
“It’s more just their motivation and keeping them relaxed,” said James Murphy, the Junior Lifeguards program manager.
“Sometimes when they are hearing it from a lot of people, it gets confusing. It’s better to allow them to be focused and one person talking them through the commands,” he said.
Afterwards, children were more relaxed and played in the surf.
“It was scary at first,” said Graham Croydon, 9, of La Jolla, “but then when I hit the water, it actually wasn’t too bad.”
His father, Scott, talked about the jitters: “I would say we were a little nervous going out there. It was a little dicey.“But once we got out there, we had the eye of the tiger. We decided not to look down, look straight out, took the big step and the rest is history.”
Asked if he would do it again, Graham said: “Probably.”
The city of San Diego offers two junior lifeguard sessions every summer for youths 7 through 17.
Participants are taught beach safety, ocean and wave education, first aid, CPR and water rescue techniques.
In addition, they learn swimming skills, body surfing and body boarding, surfing, snorkeling, stand-up paddle boarding and kayaking.
Participants must pass a swimming test before being admitted to the program.
The second session runs July 24 through Aug. 18.
Tuition for each session is $525, and registration begins in March.
The Drowning Prevention Foundation of San Diego (formerly the San Diego Junior Lifeguard Foundation) helps fund Junior Lifeguard and promotes aquatic safety and drowning prevention.
With a $75 donation to the foundation, others could also make the leap.
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