Our Lifeguard Division is known for having world-class athletes among its ranks, but did you know that includes Olympians? The most recent addition to this list of accomplished sportspersons is recurrent Ocean Lifeguard Azad Al-Barazi, who competed in the swimming portion of this summer's 2012 Olympic Games held in London, England. The 24-year-old represented his parents' home country of Syria at the games, making his family extremely proud.
"I think I made my parents cry when I marched out in the opening ceremonies," shares Al-Barazi of his once-in-a-lifetime experience. "It was so surreal. People were screaming and yelling and as you march you look up at the stands that just go on forever and you can't even see where it ends. The more I talk about it the more I am starting to take in that it actually happened and wasn't a dream!"
A self-described "ocean person," Al-Barazi grew up in the San Fernando Valley and swam every chance he got. While attending San Juan Community College in 2005, several coaches and friends encouraged him to look into becoming a Los Angeles County lifeguard. Two years later he came on board as a recurrent ocean lifeguard and has loved it ever since. In fact, though he transferred to the University of Hawaii at Manila Valley after being hired, Al-Barazi continued to travel back home during the summers to take on his lifeguarding duties. "I would go to school, swim and train and then come back here to work on the beach," he recalls. For the past six years he's worked mostly in the Central Region, at Venice Beach. "I love the beach, I love the ocean, and I love it when it's really, really crowded and there's nonstop action. As a lifeguard you meet so many people and the best thing is that you get to save lives. It's a great job!"
While representing the United States at the annual World Lifesaving Championships, Al-Barazi noticed that many U.S. athletes were representing smaller countries at the competitions. Being a first-generation Syrian-American, Al-Barazi realized that competing for Syria might be the path to becoming a professional athlete. After his mother submitted his competing times to the Arab Republic nation, he was offered a spot on their team.
"While I was at the Olympics I met a lot of people representing their heritage country," he says. Among his most memorable experiences was walking around the Olympic Village where he saw famed athletes Kobe Bryant and LeBron James among others. "Seeing these top-notch athletes next to a little scrub like me – to know that we were all in the same category and knew what it took to get there was amazing." He also enjoyed the cafeteria and trying all the international foods. "I love food," he jokes. But most of all he simply enjoyed the entire experience. "My mom told me to just have fun and enjoy it. So even though I had to compete the next day, I decided to participate in the Olympic march and make my parents proud."
Now that the Olympics are over, Al-Barazi, who graduated with a Bachelor's Degree in Kinesiology, is concentrating on pursuing a graduate degree in physical therapy. He also will be taking EMT classes at UCLA this winter, which will help him with his lifeguarding duties. Though he's keeping his options open, lifeguarding remains on his list of priorities. "Lifeguarding is always going to be with me. I'm never going to get rid of it!"