Lifesaving hero returns to SunUte as lifeguard

SunUte Lifeguard, Christopher Mooney stands alert watching over the very pool where he saved a young boys life 15 years ago in the SunUte Community Center.
The SunUte Community Center awarded several lifeguards, Junior lifeguards, and one, off duty SUPD officer on June 5, 2006 for saving the life of a SunUte swimmer who would have drowned if it was not for their quick response to the situation. Lifeguard Nick Joswick was awarded the Award of Valor Excellence, Joslyn Rowley was awarded Quick Responder, Officer Scott Webster was awarded First Responder Award and J.T. Aldarez, Christopher Mooney, and Ben Young were all awarded for Junior Lifeguard of the Year.
Christopher Mooney demonstrates how to properly perform CPR on a weighted doll that is used during the lifeguard training on the pool deck at SunUte Community Center.
McKayla Lee | The Southern Ute Drum
Christian Thompson/TTA Native American Program
McKayla Lee | The Southern Ute Drum

   On Tuesday, May 23, 2006, at the SunUte Community Center a life changing event took place. A young six-year-old Christopher Mooney had been swimming in the pool at SunUte when he came across the lifeless body of his fellow peer from the Bayfield Family Center, Atlee Beam.  

Mooney not only recognized the crisis but was able to calmly and effectively inform the lifeguards on duty of the situation. Once the lifeguards, Nick Joswick and Joslyn Rowley were made aware they immediately jumped into action. They took the young boy out of the pool and laid him on the pool deck while first responders were called.  The guards then cleared the pool and guided the ambulance personnel to the young boy. Then first responders performed lifesaving procedures, the young boy’s eyes fluttered open and SunUte staff celebrated that moment.  

After graduating high school, Mooney applied to be a SunUte lifeguard. He currently attends college in Grand Junction, Colo. at Colorado Mesa University. He will be returning to school this fall for his final year.   

“I was a really young kid and experiencing something so traumatic like that scared me, but also gave me a deeper appreciation for life,” Mooney said. “I was being praised for being a hero, but I think I was just in the right place at the right time.” 

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, the percentage of first responders who resign after experiencing a traumatic event averages at 30 percent, and that is after having witnessing or helping in the prevention of near-death episodes.  

“Even though this specific incident was a non-fatal drowning, to have a young kid like Chris go through something like that and still want to have the responsibility to become a lifeguard is extraordinary,” SunUte Community Center Director, Robin Duffy-Wirth said. “[When this happened], it was the most terrifying thing I’ve ever been through in my life.”  

Since the near fatal drowning 15 years ago, SunUte has implemented multiple procedures to keep patrons safe in the aquatic areas. 

Before children are allowed to swim in parts of the pool where water passes above their heads, they must pass a swim test. This test not only identifies swimming levels but helps lifeguards ensure a safe swimming experience.  

The SunUte Community Center was one of three institutes in Colorado to receive the American Red Cross Aquatic Examiner Award in 2018. Since then, SunUte lifeguards have been committed to the security and management of water safety. In addition to constant training and vigilance, aquatic programs like “Josh the Otter: Water Safety and Awareness Project” help teach families, staff, and children the importance of lifesaving curriculum. 

“Our safety bar since then has gone from good to great, we work hard to keep that bar rising and we all walk in this culture of safety,” Duffy-Wirth emphasized. 

            In addition to the required trainings and drills, aquatics staff are required to complete four hours of Emergency Action Planning, team building exercise and run practice drills.  

 “It truly takes a very amazing human to go through what he did as a young boy —then for him to return [to SunUte] as a mature college kid is great,” Duffy-Wirth stated.  

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