If you were winding down a 41-year career, you might be tempted to take it easy on one of the last days at work.
Not so for Dania Beach Ocean Rescue lifeguard Peter Fornier. He spent Tuesday morning walking about 15 feet underwater in the Atlantic Ocean, carrying a 50 pound concrete sphere while holding his breath.
It was just another day of training for Fornier who started working rescue on the beach in 1977. That was a long time ago: Jimmy Carter was in the White House and gasoline in the U.S. averaged $.62 per gallon.
Lifeguarding is not a profession known for longevity. Injuries and the dreaded re-certification tests take their tolls as veteran lifeguards move on or age out of taxing ocean rescues.
“You have to maintain,” Fornier said.
“You just gotta suck it up and get though your injuries and hopefully nothing’s too bad. Not everybody can make it through, so I’m doing pretty good, pretty good.”
What’s next? Spending more time with his son, John Paul, 16, who is on the swimming and water polo teams at St. Thomas Aquinas High School in Fort Lauderdale.
“I guess it makes sense my kid is a swimmer,” Fornier said.
Though giving up the lifeguard stand, Fornier is not giving up on fitness.
“I plan to come out here maybe two or three days a week and show these guys how to do it, “ he joked. “If I don’t’ show up here for my morning workouts, these guys better call me, I’m sure my wife will tell them to get [me] out of the house.”
Fitness helps with more than just longevity.
The Dania Beach Ocean Rescue team is competitive in U.S. Lifesaving Association competitions “up and down the coast,” Fornier said.
And more importantly, fitness gets at the very heart of the lifeguard’s mission.
“About seven years ago, I was just coming back from an injury and was a little out of shape,” Fornier recalls. Just north of the pier five teens were caught in a “vicious,” rip current. Two of his colleagues were already on the scene and Fornier ran the length of five football fields to help save the teens.
“We’ve always got everybody. All these years, we’ve gotten everybody out of the rip currents,” he said.
Fornier turns 64 Thursday and officially retires Friday — not that he’s eager.
“On my retirement day, April, 5, It will be 41 years, six months, and 15 days, but I’m not counting.”