Move over, water aerobics: senior citizens are hitting the pool for a completely different reason and in larger numbers than you may think.

There are about 20 senior lifeguards throughout the Central Ohio YMCA organization working to keep pool-goers safe.

“Age is just a number,” Robert Allen said.

Allen, who goes by Mr. Bob, is a septuagenarian who is lifeguarding at the Jerry L. Garver YMCA in Canal Winchester. It was a job he had when he was 18 years old. Seven years ago, after a 45-year absence from the lifeguard chair, Allen picked it back up again.

“I said, ‘Wait, is there an age limit on lifeguards?’ and they said no,” Allen said. “I talked to the aquatics director here and asked if I could recertify. She said, ‘Are you a lifeguard?’ and I said, ‘Yes, I am.’”

As part of the recertification process, Allen had to swim 300 yards, retrieve a 10-pound brick from the deep end and tread water for 2 minutes. He passed with flying colors, and his physical stamina doesn’t stop out of the pool.

“In fact, some of the young guards won’t go out for a bike ride with me because they know after about 4 miles, I’m going to be so far ahead they’ll get lost,” Allen said.  

Allen’s presence in the lifeguard chair not only helps protect pool-goers but also provides mentorship to younger lifeguards just starting out.

“The typical age of lifeguards is usually about 16 to 22 years old,” Chris Tamasovich, director of risk management and aquatic safety at Jerry L. Garver YMCA said. “Having Bob here is great.  When we have individuals like Bob come to our workforce, they’re ready to go, they jump in that lifeguard chair and make sure our patrons are safe and the training going into them being a great employee has already been done.”

At 70 years old, Allen says the relationships he’s made throughout the years and knowing he’s helping keep kids safe keeps him coming back year after year. On top of it all, he brings a bit of his own flair to the pool after his doctor told him he needs to wear compression socks.

“I bought novelty socks and put them over [the compression socks]!” he said. “I’ve got pizza socks, I’ve got bacon and egg socks, I’ve got cupcake socks, chocolate chip cookies and milk…”

The socks are a big hit with the younger kids at the pool, and they bring a smile to Allen’s face.

Allen hopes to continue to lifeguard for at least 5 more years.