Out on the pool deck, 82-year-old Richard doesn’t miss a thing. Being in and around the water is second nature to him, he doesn’t swim as often as he’d like, but he has more important things to do. “My passion is safety, anyway I can help make people safe, I’ll be there.” Richard volunteers his time at the Central YMCA pool, helping swimmers perfect their stroke, keeping the pool deck clear and giving advice to the staff when he can. “I just wanted to help pay back all the care and opportunities I got when I was a kid.”
Richard grew up in Wenatchee, WA, he and his brother would regularly attend the YMCA-swimming and playing every chance they got. “Even when I was a kid, the Y was a refuge.” His first job was as a swim instructor, then lifeguard and then lead lifeguard at the YMCA. After high school he served in the Navy for 26 years where he worked as an Underwater Demolition Diver, the precursor to the present-day United States Navy SEALs. After leaving the service Richard says life took it’s twists and turns and he ended up homeless in Spokane.
Between finding temporary places to live, Richard arrived at the Central Spokane YMCA for the first time. He was able to gain a membership through the Silver Sneakers program and quickly found himself in better spirits and reenergized. He approached the aquatics director and asked if there was any way to help using his years of water experience.
They struck up a plan and Richard got to work. In addition to his other contributions around the pool, he also loves to engage curious minds. Richard has a service dog, Duke, that comes with him wherever he goes. Duke assists Richard with his PTSD, COPD and high blood pressure. Richard says kids will come up and ask to pet Duke and ask all sorts of questions about service dogs. “Duke doesn’t mind the kids, and it gives me a chance to educate people about service dogs and clear up a lot of misconceptions.”
Out on the pool deck, Richard can be seen going around in his motorized wheelchair, lending an ear to someone wishing to tell their story or sharing his knowledge of swimming and water safety. “What the Y has done for me, nobody else has done for me. They’ve given me a reason for hope and respect.”
Recently, Richard has been able to find permanent housing but insists his trips to the Y will stay consistent, “I feel like this is my home. I have a place to live now, but this is my home.”