Courtney Harrough, a 24-year-old in Orando, FL, has the rather challenging job of being a certified deep-water lifeguard. Courtney is expected to know first aid, be a skillful swimmer, know how to perform CPR, and be capable of rescuing possible drowning victims — and she’s expected to keep an observant eye on the pool, as well.
Despite playing water polo and swimming competitively in high school, Courtney says that she encountered considerable stonewalling when it came to getting her lifeguard position: apparently, both her peers and her superiors were put off by the idea of a plus-size lifeguard.
However, that didn’t stop Courtney from pursuing her dream job.
One of Courtney’s Instagram captions reads:
How many times have you set your sights on a job, a position in life and doubted yourself? Uh- I have done that MANY times! Yesterday in my interview I was met with such excitement that I wanted to be a lifeguard by the board of my prospective employers. They informed me the Deep Water position is rigorous and can be tiring at times, I answered with a resounding “I have no doubt I can rise to the occasion and swim with the best of them!” My weight and height may cause some to think that I’d only be a pleasantly perched beached whale upon a lifeguard stand – but that isn’t the case. My body is strong, sturdy, and sexy! I don’t have smooth legs, or cut shoulders accented by tiny boobs like most of the girls in my class but I have courage, and a spirit to try. That is all is takes in this world. Carry yourself with courage my dear friends and do not let your size, shape, weight, or height be a factor of fear to your future endeavors! – Wish me luck as I dive in to save some folks and swim my butt off for a deep water lifeguard position.
Speaking to Refinery29, Courtney says that the weeks of training for the lifeguarding position weren’t easy, particularly when it came to snide remarks from other trainees about her body. “A woman my height, but three times smaller than me said, ‘I find it hard to believe you were an athletic swimmer.'”
“I try my hardest not to be nasty to people,” she tells Refinery29. “I said, ‘I think what’s cool about the human body is it takes different shapes and forms, and is capable of different things. Your background is freestyle, so you need to be lean and long. Mine is water polo, so it helps being hefty and strong. We’ve manifested strength in different ways; you’re more streamlined, and mine is more outward.'”
Despite the haters, Courtney passed her training with flying colors. Unfortunately, there were still more body-shaming hoops she was expected to jump through.
“When I went through training, I passed, and there was no question as to what my weight could do,” Courtney tells Refinery29. “But when it came time for actually implementing my job, they had no uniform for me. They said, ‘You don’t look like a regular lifeguard, we’re going to have to pull you from your job.’ I said, ‘I’m sorry, you’re not going to pull me. If my weight was such an aesthetic issue, you would’ve seen it, because I’ve been half-naked in a swimsuit. If you knew you couldn’t accommodate, you shouldn’t have put me through this. And you’re not going to fire me, because that’s discrimination. We’re going to figure out how to get it done.”
Eventually, Courtney purchased her own suit out of her own pocket, quieting any complaints from management. She says that defying the naysayers was totally worth it, because now she’s doing something that she loves and keeping people safe.
Courtney tells Refinery29 that there are many misconceptions about lifeguards, particularly with the recent release of the Baywatch movie. But she knows that, in reality, her body is perfectly capable of doing her job.
“(People think) that you have to look perfect in order to save somebody. Nobody cares what you look like when they’re near death and just want to be saved. You don’t have to have your boobs perky or your cellulite hidden — all they care about is if you can swim and whether you have their back.”