By Chris Stone
On Monday, Andrew Keith did what he’s dreamed about since childhood: jump off the Ocean Beach Pier without getting arrested.
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“I always wanted to do it as a kid and not get in trouble, not get yelled at by the lifeguards. And now they are going to let you do it? Are you kidding me?” the 40-year-old Keith said as he waited to jump with his daughter in the San Diego Junior Lifeguard program.
The annual fundraiser is a big challenge for participants who 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.
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And while Keith didn’t have to pay a $100 fine for his pier jump, he did donate $80 to the Drowning Prevention Foundation of San Diego to take part in the fun.
“It’s a good cause,” said Keith, who now lives in Philadelphia. “I get to go, and she gets to have fun too. It’s awesome. I am looking forward to it.”
Keith’s daughter, Myla, was one of about 500 kids aged 7 to 17 who took part in the program since July 23 and made the jump in morning and afternoon sessions at three places on the pier, ranging from about 20 feet to 30 feet above the water.
“I’m afraid of heights, so I think this will help me face my fear,” said Myla, 11. She has spent the summer in San Diego for the past few years.
Other children were feeling positive about their leap that was fueled by courage.
Grace, 10, said, “I’m excited.”
Asked what she thought the best part of the program was, she said, “Probably that I know that when you are finished, that you did it and that you can do it next year.”
Said Danielle Adler, who was jumping with her son Jesse: “I’m thrilled.… It’s so fun and it’s such a good program.”
The biggest gain for her son has been confidence in himself, Adler said. “It’s such a confidence builder. Everybody wants to be in the water. It’s so important to know what to do.”
At the registration table, “Face Your Fear” T-shirts were hanging in the breeze.
For some, that was easier said than done. Anxiety was in the air.
Some cried, pleading with parents to leave. Or they couldn’t overcome the jitters.
While waiting in line, young people talked among themselves about the distance to the water and fears of height. But almost all mustered the courage to take the plunge.
And their smiles were quick to come once they emerged from the splash.
“It’s just one step” and “Don’t look down” were calls from fellow lifeguard participants.
The young people were instructed to hold their fins high above their heads and step off of the platforms put next to the railings.
Many parents, who donated money to the foundation, jumped from platforms adjacent from where their children leaped.
The city of San Diego offers two junior lifeguard sessions every summer. Participants must pass a swimming test before being admitted to the program. 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.
For more than 24 years, the San Diego Fire-Rescue Lifeguard Service has managed over 24,000 junior lifeguards jumping into the water off the Ocean Beach Pier.
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