Unfortunately, Craig Greenman's experiences attempting to swim at a lakefront beach [August 13] are similar to my own. He quoted a lifeguard as saying, "If you want to swim, go to a Park District lap pool. The lake's not for swimming, it's for playing." I think this attitude is the crux of the problem. This idea has been conveyed to me repeatedly by lifeguards at North Avenue Beach since the early 80s.
I attended one meeting and have had correspondence with Joe Pecoraro, head of beaches and pools, about this. At the meeting Pecoraro told everyone there that adults are allowed to swim in chest-deep water whenever the beaches are open for swimming. In the summer of 1992 I wrote to the Park District, "The 'adults can swim in chest-deep water' rule may be the best-kept secret in Chicago." I wrote this because several people told me they stopped going to the beach because the lifeguards kept them in knee-deep water. When I told them about the chest-high rule, they were amazed. Also, I was often told to move in while swimming (well within the rule), and when I mentioned the rule to the lifeguard, the lifeguard didn't know about it. I was sometimes told that North Avenue Beach "isn't a swimming beach." Pecoraro responded to my letter, "The chest-deep swimming rules at our bathing beaches have been in effect since I started as a lifeguard, and every guard is instructed and trained in its enforcement."
Despite Pecoraro's assurance, the problem persisted. I was still often told to move in when I was in barely chest-high water, and that if I wanted to swim, to go elsewhere.
Last summer (1998) I called Pecoraro's office to ask about the proper procedure for being able to swim in chest-high water and described the treatment I was getting from the guards. The staff person was very nice, apologized to me, and told me the name of the mate at North Avenue and to ask for him. The next time I did ask for him and was directed to the lifeguard office in the beach house. The person I was looking for was off that day but the second in command knew what I was talking about. None of the other guards standing around seemed to. He explained it to them. I was instructed to tell the guard on the center perch that he said it was OK for me to swim. This worked and I was left alone.
I shouldn't have to point out how embarrassing it was to have to get permission to swim by invading the lifeguards' space (as I was told to do). Also, it felt like a personal favor to me rather than the enforcement of a policy that is supposed to apply to everyone.
I appreciate the skill of the lifeguards and their dedication to public safety. These qualities are not incompatible with allowing adults to take a normal, relaxing swim without harassment.