By BECKY MALEWITZ
Shannon McNeill may be in her first year as manager at The Big Pool, but she has been a familiar face to swimmers for seven summers.
"All the summers start running together being here so long," McNeill said looking over at the pool teeming with swimmers enjoying the cool water and sunshine under the watchful eye of lifeguards. "It's where I am all summer, every summer. It's more than just sitting back tanning; everybody does a good job every day."
The longtime swimmer started working at the pool as a lifeguard at the age of 16, and as the years passed, McNeill worked her way up to head lifeguard, assistant manager and now manager.
What keeps her coming back every swim season?
"It's a fun job working with other lifeguards and the patrons and to kind of see the kids grow up when you've worked here quite awhile. The kids that come every day, you get to know them year after year," McNeill said.
McNeill started her swim career when she was 8 years old as part of the Seahawks swim team. The 2009 Garden City High School graduate swam through high school for the Buffs and for two years in college at University of Nebraska at Kearney.
"I've been around water all the time, so I would come home (from school) and have a two or three week break and start in on summer swim," she said.
Now living in Deerfield, McNeill, the mother of a 14-month old and expecting her second child in August, is looking forward to putting her swimming expertise to work later this summer by teaching her son how to swim.
"I'm hoping to bring him down (to the pool). I've been waiting for the water to warm up a little," she said. "I'm excited to get him in the water."
This won't be McNeill's first chance to pass on her enthusiasm for the water to a younger generation. Throughout her years at The Big Pool, she has helped many kids learn how to swim without their water wings.
"I've taught swim lessons every year I've been here and been in charge of them the last couple of years, so you see the little ones starting out as 2 year olds and then growing up 3, 4, 5, so it's fun to see them and they'll come in their little hooded towels and their cute little swimsuits."
She goes on to describe how rewarding it has been to share her love of the water with others.
"It's kind of cool. Our swim lessons are two weeks long, so you can see the progression where they started; whether they don't want to get their head in the water at first or blow bubbles, to at the end where they are like little fish," McNeill said.
She added that her favorite part is, "seeing them get better where they are just more comfortable with the water and actually when they are older and learning the different strokes and swimming farther distances."