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Kids swim to cope with grief

Castaic children handle tough loss with help of program

Posted: August 5, 2012 2:00 a.m.
Updated: August 5, 2012 2:00 a.m.

Siblings Jacqueline, 11, and Michael Bird, 10, pose for a photo at Castaic Lake on Friday.

 

The Junior Lifeguard Program held annually at Castaic Lake teaches lifesaving and emergency-response skills, teamwork and athleticism every summer to hundreds of Santa Clarita Valley kids.

But one Castaic father says the program has been an actual lifesaver for his family.

Al Bird’s wife died suddenly May 2011 and left him a single parent with two grieving children.

After Kim Bird’s unexpected death, he thought about taking a leave of absence from his career and worried about the long summer days ahead, knowing his children needed help with their grief.

His niece Erica Lopez had been in the Junior Lifeguard Program years before and talked about its positive influence.

The suggestion that Jacqueline Bird, now 11, and Michael Bird, now 10, join the Junior Lifeguard Program couldn’t have come at a better time, their father said.

“There were many nights they couldn’t sleep, and when they were able (to sleep), they’d awake crying and yelling for mom,” Al Bird said with tears in his eyes as he talked about the issues his children faced last year. “We were all becoming lost as I grasped for something, anything that would help them.”

Jacqueline and Michael Bird enrolled in the second session of the program in the summer of 2011.

Soon after, they started to sleep better as their enthusiasm for the program shone through their grief for their mother’s death, Al Bird said. They fell asleep talking about what they had done in the program that day and the new friends they had made.

“They made progress every day and right before my eyes, I saw my two children blossoming again as they felt part of something special,” Al Bird said.

When they excelled in the competition last year, his children were proud of their accomplishments, their father said. “They wore their medals like a badge of courage and slept with them around their necks for two weeks after the session ended,” he said.

When Jacqueline and Michael returned to school following the summer break, their teachers had expected both children to be withdrawn and thought they might have trouble in school.

But both children had relied on the lessons taught in the program to excel, Al Bird said. Both children kept straight A’s in the honors program again and excelled in athletics and academics.

The changes were due to his children’s involvement in the Junior Lifeguard Program, Al Bird believes.

“This program is more than just exercise,” he said. “It’s more than just teaching kids to be lifeguards.

“I couldn’t believe how much impact it was having in their lives,” their father said.

On Thursday, both children won medals several times and competed in a swim relay together, which they helped win for their teammates.

“I like everything (about the program),” Jacqueline Bird said, “just working out and meeting new people.

“That’s a lot of fun,” she said.

Michael Bird said he loved the competition and the chance to win medals in his events.

Chrysta McMahon, of Canyon Country, who is Jacqueline’s instructor this year and knows both children well, said the two Bird children help make the program what it is.

“They’re amazing,” McMahon said. “That’s why the program is amazing; because of them.”

For more information on the Castaic Lake Junior Lifeguard Program, go to https://sites.google.com/site/castaicjgs/.

kjonas@the-signal.com

661-287-5517

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