After years of watching from the comfort of her living room, Kathy Guyer ’08 can now say that she played a part in helping some of the best athletes in the world compete for Olympic Gold. Only a month ago, the Upper Iowa University (UIU) alumna was providing basic first aid and other lifeguard duties at the U.S. Olympic Trials in Omaha, Neb., as swimmers attempted to qualify for the 2016 Rio Olympic Games.
“Being afforded that opportunity was a huge privilege and I feel very thankful to all who have supported me this summer and throughout my career,” said Guyer, who is a certified lifeguard and American Red Cross swimming instructor and trainer. “It’s been overwhelming to now have people recognize me as someone who worked at the Olympic Trials.”
An Algona, Iowa, native, Guyer has been swimming since she first learned to walk. Her family moved to West Union, Iowa, in 1963, and at the age of 15 she was certified to be a lifeguard. Guyer parti
cipated in specialized lessons in the UIU Fayette Campus swimming pool under the tutelage of alumnus and 1980 Athletic Hall of Fame inductee, the late Everett “Eb” Eischeid ‘38.
The avid swimmer achieved her American Red Cross accreditation in 1994. Ironically, it was during a continuing education class in Omaha a few years ago that she was introduced to instructor Dayle Nervig. Nervig also serves on the Olympic Trials Lifeguard Committee and this past year she asked if Guyer would be interested in serving as a lifeguard at the 2016 Trials.
“It took me all of 15 seconds to say, ‘YES,’” admitted Guyer, who has served as the West Union Parks and Recreation director for the past nine years. “I later received a phone call from the Lifeguard Committee chair and after a 20-minute conversation I was invited to an in-service to prove my life guarding skills.”
After passing all requirements in April, Guyer found herself on the official U.S. Olympic Trials lifeguard schedule. Her duties included guarding the competition and warmup pools as well as, the aqua (fun) zone. In addition to serving as a lifeguard at the Omaha Cup held prior to the Olympic Trials, she was on deck at the competition pool when swimmers Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte faced off in the 200 Individual Medley.
“The respect the athletes showed each other throughout the competition was most impressive,” she added. “I did not witness anyone acting like they were any better than the other competitors or anyone else. You could say that everyone played nice around the pool.”
While listing some of the most memorable moments of the experience, Guyer noted she was able to congratulate Bob Bowman on being named the head coach of the men’s 2016 U.S Olympic Swimming Team.
“I wished him and the team good luck in Rio,” said Guyer. “In return he thanked me for the volunteer service that I and all the other lifeguards provided during the trials. I also shook Connor Jaeger’s hand after the awards ceremony for his gold medal performance in the 1500 freestyle, but just having the opportunity to lifeguard for such swimmers as Michael Phelps, Ryan Lochte, Allison Schmitt, Tyler Clary, Nathan Adrian and Katy Ladecky was such a great honor in itself.”
With each medal-winning performance this week by American swimmers, the former U.S. Olympic Trials lifeguard now feels a personal attachment to the competitors.
“I’ve been standing and cheering them on while watching them compete on TV this week,” said Guyer. “I don’t panic when they get behind in a heat or in the finals. They are no longer unknowns to me. I’ve already watched them train and race so I am very confident they will win and represent the USA with pride.”
Kathy Guyer graduated from Upper Iowa University with a Bachelor of Science degree in human services and sports psychology in 2008. She later earned a master’s degree in education, with an emphasis in classroom leadership at UIU.