Feature Article - January/February 2002
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Pool Your Resources

Aquatics programming ideas to help keep your facility floating

By Mitch Martin

A Career in Aquatics Programming
A quick profile of one aquatics manager in Texas

Farhad Madani still speaks with a light Iranian accent, but it is leavened by a Texas drawl.

Emigrating from Iran in 1978 just ahead of the Iranian Revolution, much of Madani's view of American life has come from the lifeguard's chair and the pool deck. At the age of 16, he got a job as a lifeguard in Austin's inner-city swimming pools before he commanded the English language.

"I couldn't speak a full sentence when I started," he says. "Basically, the only English I knew was: no running, no diving and no horseplay. That was about it."

Over the next 23 years, Madani worked his way up through the ranks of the City of Austin's parks and recreation department, now serving as manager of the aquatics section. He oversees a large division, diverse both in its facilities and its client population.

The City of Austin, Texas, is approximately half white but also has a 30-percent Hispanic population and healthy-sized Asian and African-American communities. The parks department has very diverse facilities, including a spring, a waterfront and dozens of pools. The famous Barton Springs is the home of the Barton Springs Salamander, an endangered species.

In an intensely political environment, Madani has had to balance keeping the springs clean enough for human swimming without adding chemicals that would endanger the rare salamander's habitat.

Madani says the parks department has provided a wonderful place to use his skills to the fullest. He flunked his first lifeguarding test but joined master swimmers in his early 20s, an experience that has left the now 39-year-old a highly proficient swimmer. After more than 20 years at the department, he has seen the effect aquatics has on the young adult.

"Because I've been around, I get to see our lifeguards come back as lawyers, doctors and fireman," Madani says. "One of my favorite things is, when we have an issue, to call up one of our former lifeguards who is now running another pool program somewhere else."

He says programming in the urban environment is a constant challenge, but a good challenge.

"It makes you stay creative," he says. "And I get to work with the whole spectrum of aquatics, from a very suburban-style environment one day to inner-city pool the next."

Madani says the best part of the job is making a difference in the lives of young children.

"If you've provided a safety program that saves a life, or you see the kids from a certain area really enjoying themselves, it really reminds you why you're doing the job you're doing," he says.