EVERY TIME Jo McDowell helps up-skill a member of her club or another in the region, she knows they are more than capable of helping keep their community safe.
The Warrnambool resident grew up on a farm close to Childers Cove before moving away to study and become a pharmacist.
She, like many of the club's members, joined the Warrnambool Surf Lifesaving Club as a young beach lover and earned her bronze medallion through a school-based program and by volunteering in patrols.
McDowell then moved away for university in Bendigo and worked in Melbourne before returning to the south-west, where she is now a pharmacist at Artz and Kay.
Upon her return the call of the lifesaving club pulled her back in. Long-time lifeguard and former club president Michael Owen, who first trained McDowell, was part of the reason she returned.
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McDowell went on to regain her bronze medallion and worked her way up the club's ranks over the next seven years.
The 36-year-old has been a constant member of the patrol team, was a patrol skipper and vice-captain and has gained all her lifesaving awards, allowing her to train the next bunch of the club's patrolling members.
McDowell's official role at the club now, and for the past two seasons, has been the chief training officer.
"My role involves training club members in their SRC (surf rescue certificate) and bronze medallion, which are the first steps to doing voluntary patrols," she said.
"I also do training for other awards like advanced first aid, advance resuscitation (CPR) and beach management.
"I also coordinate with other club trainers in the western region like Port Fairy, Portland and Port Campbell and we work together to train our members, who help watch over beachgoers during summer."
The dedicated lifesaver, who also volunteers and competes with Warrnambool Tri Club, said being part of the club was a unique version of personal development.
"Lifesaving is an interesting profession where you can start as a member and do patrols on the beach as it's really enjoyable and you like being at the beach," she said.
"But you are also there to help out members of the public come, keep them safe and make sure everyone has a good day at Warrnambool's beach.
"It also challenges you to learn different things and become a better person. You can learn how to crew an IRB (inflatable rescue boat) or you might get into competition and look at that and competing as well.
"It's also about making connections and getting outdoors, being active and creating social connections. With surf lifesaving it also gives you an opportunity to give back through a community service."
McDowell said a number of factors drove her to return to the club summer after summer.
"The love of the beach is one so it's definitely the environment and the people as well. It's also a good opportunity to become involved in something outside of work," she said.
"That definitely drives me to do club-based work or do something with my time. It also is giving back and making sure people who come through the club can benefit from it as well.
"Whether that be training them to learn CPR skills or surf skills or looking to gain a broader education so they can be and help people to be safe around the water.
"It's great to see members come through nippers, join the competition squad or patrols and become better people around the water and learn beach safety and lifesaving skills.
"Our members have also been able to use those skills in everyday life. For instance some may have gone on to save someone in water when they have been on duty or helped with CPR outside of that setting.
"They have used their broader skills to help out in the community and to have had these people come through club gives great value to what we do."
McDowell is just one of many dedicated south-west residents who give years of their lives to the club.
"The calibre of volunteers at the club is impressive," she said. "I could rattle off so many names of people who have given extensive years in lifesaving and the club definitely benefits from that.
"Michael Owen has been a longstanding club member and he basically trained me when I did my bronze and he is still involved. He is a lifeguard still and he has been training for a very long period of time.
"It (lifesaving) is a movement where people volunteer over significant periods of time."
McDowell believes there are many key traits to being a good volunteer.
"Some good qualities in a volunteer are to be friendly, open-minded and open to criticism as well," she said.
"You have to be welcoming and find a way to work with people, working with their strengths and weakness and you have to try and get along with everyone in a club environment.
"I feel you also need to have work ethic and commitment and make sure that what you contribute to the club is to the benefit of the majority as that is an important thing to have a successful club.
"Having enjoyment with what you do and to the work you do helps as well."
McDowell encouraged people to volunteer where they can and for clubs to ask their members if they were willing to help out.
"People all have some skills to offer and while they may not want to take it up immediately they may in the future," she said.
"It never hurts for clubs to ask their members if they might want to be involved and help out. They might say no at first but then later they may decide they want to."
- For National Volunteer Week The Standard is celebrating the people who help sports across the region continue to run smoothly and efficiently. From Tuesday to Saturday a new volunteer will tell their story of service and dedication.
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