As Sylvia Deerfield swims under the water she hears the voices of Les Miserables through her waterproof MP3 player.
“I love to lose myself in the water,” said Deerfield, describing the experience of swimming while listening to her favorite music.
Deerfield discovered a passion for the water when she learned to swim at the age of 40, and now the 71-year-old is a lifeguard at the Albemarle Family YMCA and the Coast Guard Base in Elizabeth City.
Originally from Chesapeake, Va., Deerfield has fond remembrances as a young child of going to the beach with her mother and siblings. However, Deerfield never learned to swim until decades later when she was able to spend time in a pool in Puerto Rico where her husband, Fred, was stationed in the United States Navy.
Deerfield and her husband joined her brother and other partners to co-own Riverwind in Elizabeth City, and when the property was sold in 2003 she entered retirement. She spent time swimming at the pool at the Coast Guard Base and decided to pursue lifeguard certification at the age of 65.
Now most mornings Deerfield wakes at 4:15 a.m. to prepare for the 5:30 a.m. lifeguard shift at the YMCA. Deerfield said her husband works the desk shift while she lifeguards.
“It is a fun thing we do together,” said Deerfield.
It is easier to face the alarm clock when you wake up together, explained Deerfield.
Deerfield also devotes many hours a week working as a lifeguard at the Morale, Well-Being and Recreation indoor pool facilities at the Coast Guard Base.
Her weekend shifts at the pool are especially gratifying when she is able to view men and women who are training to become rescue swimmers as they practice their maneuvers in the pool.
“I am thrilled to see their tremendous passion,” said Deerfield.
Deerfield said she “makes it a point to learn all their names,” attends all of their graduations and maintains contact with many through Facebook after they are stationed in other areas.
“They are such special wonderful people,” said Deerfield.
Deerfield spends most days in the lifeguard chair, but Thursdays are her designated Gr8GranDays when she and her husband relish time with her great grandson, Dominic. Deerfield said she came up with the title for the special day when texting her granddaughter.
Deerfield said they often take her great grandson to the pool so he “can have an early start,” and be “comfortable” in the water.
An “advocate for swimming,” Deerfield said, “it fills my life.”