From retirement to saving lives at sea as an RNLI lifeguard
RNLI lifeguard John Irwin swapped retirement for lifeguarding this summer and just has completed his first summer season helping to save lives at sea for the charity on its county Down beaches
At the age of 65, John from Kilkeel Co. Down embarked on a new adventure as a lifeguard, making him one of the oldest members on the RNLI lifeguarding team in Northern Ireland. His remarkable journey from corporate life to lifeguarding, has seen him demonstrate many of the RNLI’s values, dedication and courage as well as a deep commitment to giving back to his community.
Before donning the lifeguard's uniform, John led a busy life as a European key account manager for a multinational engineering division. His job required extensive travel throughout Europe, keeping him on the road for more than 40 weeks a year. John's transition into lifeguarding happened just this summer when he joined the RNLI. His journey began with rigorous training in June, preparing him for his crucial role on the beaches during the busy months of July and August.
An accomplished master swimmer, John became the Irish 100m butterfly champion at 16 and 17 and returning to the sport at 57, a remarkable 40 years after quitting due to injuries sustained from running. This year, he clinched the Irish 50m butterfly title and holds 10 Ulster swimming records. John’s passion for keeping fit has stood to him as the rigorous lifeguard fitness requirement entails a 200m swim in 3½ minutes, a 200m run in under 40 seconds and two lengths underwater in under 50 seconds.
John got to know RNLI Lifeguard Supervisor Stuart Montgomery through swim training; and having listened to Stuarts story he was inspired to get involved. John has a deep-seated belief in the RNLI's mission to save everyone and in its lifeguards and volunteer crew members to make a real difference.
Among the incidents he was involved with this summer was coming to the aid of a six-year-old girl with a jellyfish sting.
‘What struck me was her extraordinary courage,’ John said. ‘Despite her age, she handled the situation with remarkable composure. We helped her on the necessary steps to alleviate the pain and discomfort, and she followed their guidance with astonishing bravery.’
Despite an age gap between John and his younger colleagues, he says the lifeguard team shares a common bond.
‘We are are all swimmers or sports enthusiasts, so we share a common love for the sea as well as a shared passion to help others who find themselves in difficulty either in the water or on the beach, so age doesn’t really come into it. As a team, we react by working together efficiently to either pass on safety advice on the beach or help someone who needs us.’
Speaking to Lifeguard Supervisor Stuart Montgomery, he said ‘we all adore John so much and are immensely appreciative all his hard work and dedication to the charity’.
Key facts about the RNLI
The RNLI charity saves lives at sea. Its volunteers provide a 24-hour search and rescue service around the United Kingdom and Republic of Ireland coasts. The RNLI operates 238 lifeboat stations in the UK and Ireland and more than 240 lifeguard units on beaches around the UK and Channel Islands. The RNLI is independent of Coastguard and government and depends on voluntary donations and legacies to maintain its rescue service. Since the RNLI was founded in 1824, its lifeboat crews and lifeguards have saved over 142,700 lives.
Learn more about the RNLI
Contacting the RNLI - public enquiries