Top News

More than a pool: Lifeguard Hubert Howse says swimming was his life-changer

Hubert Howse as a lifeguard at The Wave in January.
Hubert Howse as a lifeguard at The Wave in January. - Jonathan Parsons
CLARENVILLE, N.L. —

Swimming represents many vital things to Hubert Howse of Clarenville.

It’s his life.

But it wasn’t always the keystone of his activities. Now, swimming represents his greatest accomplishments, facing his fears, and becoming something he never thought he’d be.

It’s why the destruction of The Wave Hotel came as such a shock to Howse. He’s been a lifeguard at The Wave for many years, which had a pool and gym facility in its building.

The aftermath at The Wave the day after a devastating fire which levelled the hotel and pool facility.
The aftermath at The Wave the day after a devastating fire which levelled the hotel and pool facility.

When The Wave burned down at the end of January, it was an enormous blow for many in the community, as a prominent business with 50 rooms of hotel space, a workout space, and the community’s only pool were lost.

Howse was devastated.

“It’s such a tough blow,” Howse told The Packet weeks after The Wave was destroyed in the fire.

He adds that he’s “out of sorts” after not being able to swim for several weeks. Something that he’s done consistently for almost two decades. 

Great meaning

In an interview with The Packet in January, prior to the fire at The Wave, Howse recounted the journey that saw him avoiding water completely to becoming a nationally certified lifeguard.

His personal history at The Wave pool began in 2002.

At age 42, Howse set out to do something that had eluded him his entire life — learning how to swim.

Having grown up in Greenspond, he can remember a close call in his youth which warded him off from water, along with severe asthma which plagued him all his life. Howse developed a fear of water.

“I remember, as a child, falling into water,” recalls Howse. “Now fortunately, the water was shallow so I was able to stand up and get out but I got quite a scare … I can still see that happening now in my mind.”

Howse is a retired teacher. He taught at Random Island Academy.

He thought to himself back in 2002, he tells his students all the time to try new experiences and not to be afraid of taking chances, as long as it does no harm to yourself or others.

He realized he needed to practice what he preached.

“I credit (my students) for some of the inspiration … I always said, ‘You owe it to yourself to try.’”

Even though Howse decided he wanted to learn to swim, he was still apprehensive and needed to psych himself up to go through with it.

His swimming lessons were in The Wave’s pool. He was one of eight people getting instruction.

“I struggled like you wouldn’t believe,” he remembers. He chuckles when recalling someone saying he was “like a rock in the water.”

Howse struggled with the breathing aspects of swimming, as asthma has been a limitation for him throughout his life.

“I’ve always had to fight to overcome something because of my asthma.”

But Howse’s trademark determination and dedication then came into play. For three months, he logged an hour in the pool every day of the week.

“Here were all these little children down in the deep end swimming away — and here was I, up in the shallow end, a nervous wreck.”

Becoming efficient

Over the next two years he worked hard and practiced further. Even today, Howse says he’s not an overly fast swimmer, but he is steady. He began to swim with the lifeguards to practice and eventually could do 80 laps of the pool without stopping.

He went on to become a lifeguard himself, a monumental achievement for the former non-swimmer. Howse even taught lessons for a time — delighting in being able to help those like himself, who once couldn’t swim. He knew exactly what they were going through and could speak from experience in his instruction.

“It was always a pleasure to see someone learn to do something,” said Howse with a smile.

Receiving his Bronze Cross, to certify as a lifeguard provincially, was a particularly special milestone. He trained devotedly to meet the criteria of 24 lengths of the pool in less than 15 minutes.

“It was like winning a goal medal. That was the feeling when I accomplished that.”

Working as a lifeguard for the 15 years following, Howse was often the elder-statesman of the group, working alongside young competitive swimmers, alumni of the Waverunners swim club.

In 2018, Howse was told the standards for lifeguarding in the province were changing and he needed to be nationally certified to continue to work at the pool.

Just days before Christmas, he went through the testing required for the higher level of certification.

Because of his lower-than-average speed for a lifeguard, Howse thought he wouldn’t have what it takes to meet the new standard. He considered not even attempting, selflessly not wanting to waste anyone’s time.

“The toughest one for me was having to swim the entire length of the pool submerged.”

Having missed the times on several different tasks, he was completely deflated.

After considering dropping out before the second weekend of class, the instructor told Howse she was elated to find out he would not give up before final testing.

She told him his lifetime of experience was a valuable tool for his fellow — particularly young — lifeguards.

On Dec. 22, Howse received an early Christmas gift — his Bronze Medallion, his welcome into the national lifeguard society.

Pride beamed from his face as he relayed the story of his accomplishment.

When asked if this was his proudest moment, Howse had to think hard about his years in the pool.

As big of an achievement as the Bronze Medallion was, he says learning to swim was perhaps the more challenging and pivotal of a moment.

“If I had not reached that (learning to swim) I wouldn’t’ve never been a lifeguard anyway,” he said. “To initially learn how to swim and the breathing in the water and do the different strokes, that was an amazing feat for me.”

Will, drive and persistence

Howse thanked many people for his swimming journey. He’s appreciative of the instructors he’s had over the years, fellow lifeguards, and others on the way.

He received endless encouragement which helped Howse accomplish one of his crowning achievements in life.

“My story is like so many others, I’m just an ordinary person. I don’t want this to make me look like, ‘Oh my God, look how great he is,’” he said. “That’s not what it’s is about. I want it to be a story to inspire and motivate others who’re doubting themselves to think, ‘If he’s doing it, I could probably do it too!’”

Howse calls being a lifeguard a huge responsibility but also very rewarding.

He admits he had doubts along the way, but his determination is what kept him going. Whether that be learning to swim, helping others learn, or earning any of his lifeguarding certifications for the first time.

“If you just try hard enough. It comes down to hard work and focusing.

“And practice, practice, practice!”

Howse says it’s never too late to do what you’ve wanted to do.

Ingrained in his life

Regarding the ultimate fate of the pool where he — along with countless others in the community — had so many personal triumphs and victories and learned so much about themselves, Howse says it’s an incredible loss.

“It’s devastating.”

Now that there is no pool in Clarenville, Howse expresses there is an inherent need for one in the community.

He’s even begun to travel to Gander to have a swim in the pool there. Luckily, he’s been able to carpool with another avid swimmer.

Swimming is such an important part of who he is and what he does on a day-to-day basis, he needs to do it.

“It’s going to be hard to live without a pool. It might sound crazy and farfetched, but when you swim just about every day since 2002 — and (having) seen children grow up at that pool — it’s hard to put the right words to it.”

Howse still drives by the wreckage, where the hotel used to be — mainly out of routine and tribute. His loss is the community’s loss. Howse doesn’t see it as just another recreational facility.

“It’s such an eerie feeling. When I drive by, I slow down. It’s like a memorial site … it’s so emotional.”

[email protected]

Twitter: @jejparsons

RELATED:

The Wave Hotel in Clarenville, N.L., destroyed by fire

Recent Stories