Flagler Beach parks and recreation director embraces National Lifeguard Championships at age 56
Tom Gillin has been a lifeguard for more than 30 years, and he's not done yet.
| 2:58 p.m. August 12, 2017
Palm Coast Observer
Tom Gillin isn’t the young lifeguard he always thought he’d be anymore.
“I just blinked, and all of a sudden I’m in my 50s,” Gillin, the Flagler Beach parks and recreation director, said. “I remember I was always the young lifeguard on the beach, and the guys I worked for were in their 50s. I looked at them as the old timers.”
Now at 56, Gillin has been a lifeguard for more than 30 years. He said he has slowed down a bit, but he still holds onto his youth by competing in the United States Lifesaving Association National Lifeguard Championships, which were held in Daytona Beach this year from Aug. 9-12.
Gillin started competing at the southeast regional level in 2014 as a motivation to stay fit and bond with other lifeguards.
“This has been a rebirth for me really,” he said. “It’s like I’m a new lifeguard all together. I’m fairly new to the competitions. I’m having fun with it, and it’s keeping me in shape now.”
Gillin began working at Flagler Beach in 2004 after being a lifeguard in New York through high school and college. Even though he now spends most of his time in an office setting, Gillin said he wants to be prepared and able to make a rescue if needed.
“I always vow that when I get to the point where I can’t pass the lifeguard test, even though most of my job is out of the water and I’m not sitting in a tower, that I’d probably leave this job,” he said. “I want to know that if I need to make a rescue that I can do that.”
His main role now is to hire lifeguards each summer season and encourage the next generation through Flagler Beach’s junior lifeguard program.
Gillin found his passion as a lifeguard at age 18 when he started working at Fire Island National Seashore in Long Island, New York.
“Back then it was the ultimate summer job rather than flipping burgers over a hot grill,” he said. “Everyone looked up to lifeguards. At that age, that was the job to get.”
Flash forward to 2017, Gillin is starting to embrace his age. He said a few weeks ago while he was walking by the Flagler Beach pier, a young kid passed him and said, “Mommy, look at the old lifeguard there.”
“I’m looking around like who is he talking about, then I realized, ‘Oh, that’s me,’” Gillin laughed. “I used to always give my boss a hard time. I used to call him the old man.”
He said his wife pointed out that’s him now.
“I realized how much he taught me, so this is good,” he said. “I can be a mentor to (young lifeguards) now. It’s just at 20, I never thought I’d be here. I thought I’d always be 20 and 30.”