Featured Volunteer: Natalie Taylor
Get to know our volunteer lifeguard, Natalie Taylor! She just joined ISLA on our trip to Nicaragua! Read more about her and her experience in Nicaragua!
I grew up in the water. When you walk through the door of my family home, no one worries about the dripping ocean water, the sand and salt is part of its infrastructure at this point. There exists a familial love affair of the ocean, which led us to lifeguarding. Both my dad and two siblings guarded Huntington Beach growing up. My aunt (his sister) went on to become the first female lifeguard in Orange County, and then Newport Beach’s first female fire chief. By the time I was 6 years old, I was begging to start Junior Guards. So at that young age, I got thrown into the C group full of kids 2 years older than me.
During middle school, my family of six decided to embark on the adventure of a lifetime. In our 33 ft sailboat, we sailed from San Diego, down the coast of Baja California, up into the Sea of Cortez, down the coast of Central America, and finished our voyage through the Panama Canal. There are no pictures of us wearing clothes from this era, only bikinis. Every night, it was a contest between my sisters and I as to who would be the last one out of the water. After it looked like everyone was drying off, one of us would leap off the side of the boat into the dark water, now lit by moonlight or bioluminescence, just to claim the title of “Last One In.” This nightly routine would continue to cycle until our parents threatened not to let us swim at all the next day.
Along with lifeguarding, another huge part of my life has been volleyball. When it came time to pick a college, I decided I wanted to go to the best university I could and play the highest level of volleyball I could. I chose Northwestern University, where I would be competing as a D1 athlete in the Big Ten Conference. However, I quickly learned that once salt water runs through your veins, it is too hard to live without. Each summer became a much-needed escape from city life and back to my small beach hometown.
My three younger sisters all participated in Jr. Guards, went through rookie school, and became Del Mar Lifeguards as well. While there are many families in our department, but we are the only sisters. Four female siblings lifeguarding together is such an anomaly that The Weather Channel’s show “Lifeguard! Southern California” made a clip about us in 2013. I love getting to work with and share this passion with my sisters, especially when we get to paddle out to dive in the kelp beds during our lunch break together.
Every summer I lifeguarded, I learned more and continued to advance in rank. I got my first taste of emergency medicine as a first aid responder, and I enjoyed having a set of skills so when I responded on calls I was able to help people in distress. So I made the decision to pursue the challenge of being accepted to medical school. I am happy to say that this fall, I will begin working towards my MD, where I hope to continue to build my medical expertise and credentials.
I hope to continue working with ISLA and Lifeguards without Borders throughout my career. The organization is the perfect blend of all my passions: lifeguarding, foreign cultures, and medicine. This volunteer trip was a way for me to teach others to love and respect the ocean as much as I do, and I hope to participate in many more trips to come.
Before going on this ISLA trip, I didn’t know what to expect. I had applied online, and while I had browsed the organization’s website, I had never met anyone who had participated on a trip or from within the organization. I did know, however, that I had always enjoyed the different people I met throughout the USLA community, at lifeguard competitions, or on Jr. Guard outings. You always miss 100% of the shots you don’t take, so I took a leap of faith. As one of the last to arrive in Managua, I crossed the road from the airport over to the Best Western. When I saw the rest of the team already in the pool sampling the local beer, I knew this was going to be an awesome trip.
I had been to Costa Rica, but had never to Nicaragua and assumed the two neighboring countries would be similar. But just because they share a border, doesn’t mean the two countries resemble each other in anyway and would be analogous to comparing the US to Mexico. Some equate present-day Nicaragua to the Costa Rica of 30 years ago: when Costa Rican colones were still more accepted than dollars and before western tourism took over. Yet, this generalization doesn’t even begin to describe how a brief flirtation with this country can turn into an avid life-long affair.
You fall in love with Nica because although the smell of burning trash and stray dog gangs follow you throughout this developing country, so do the feelings of going under a wave during the numerous body whomping sessions and of riding unharnessed in the back of a pick-up truck. You fall in love with Nica because as the only 6-foot blonde female in the country, intoxicated nicaragüenses stumble up to your tower from the crowds of the Semana Santa festivities just to stare at this unfamiliar sight. You fall in love with Nica because even though it is officially illegal to drive on the beach, 10 year-olds on quads still race along the sand 24/7, causing you to mentally prepare the first-aid protocol of your subsequent reaction if they were to crash. You fall in love with Nica because you are dropped off at your tower assignment each morning in a vintage Land Cruiser Ambulancia complete with a snorkel, and driven by the plump jefe who appears to have been in charge of this beach since the Spaniards conquered its shores. You fall in love with Nica because even though you are served beans, rice, and plantains for every meal, you are entertained by the solo female Nicaraguan lifeguard, who makes you shriek with laugher as she embarrasses all the male guards with her sassy impersonations of them waking up for early-morning workouts. You fall in love with Nica, because as you are saying goodbye to these new friends on the last day, one gives you their Red Cross hat from off their head, with their name etched in Sharpie inside, and you are elated by the fact that you have accomplished making a personal connection in a foreign culture. These are the adrenaline-raising experiences that make you feel so alive and it is during these moments that you do not wish you were anywhere else, but in this present.