Bill Richardson remembers watching Reenie Boyer jog out into the Huntington Beach sand to train as a lifeguard in 1975.
Boyer, then 16, was looking to become the third female lifeguard in county history and first in about 20 years, said Richardson, her former instructor.
Only, she was already limping that first day of training.
Out of 40 people, 39 of them men, Boyer came in 10th for the first running and swimming event.
Turns out, Boyer said, she had fractured her leg playing basketball with her younger brothers the day before.
It was just a nagging pain, she said.
Her dream had to be put on hold. The next year, Boyer came out stronger, beating out everyone, including the men, and placed first in overall training and became a lifeguard, Richardson said.
“That’s what Reenie has. That stick-to-it attitude,” he said. “No matter what it is, she’ll do her best in it.”
Boyer’s best, though, was yet to come.
In 1983, she joined the Newport Beach lifeguards and launched the junior lifeguard program.
And just this past Christmas, 26 years later, Boyer retired from the junior lifeguard program.
On Thursday, friends and past junior guards will celebrate her at the American Legion Yacht Club.
While she certainly touched hundreds of lives as a lifeguard in Huntington Beach, it was in Newport Beach that Boyer really made her mark.
What started in 1984 as a program with 50 kids and three lifeguard instructors grew almost too fast to handle in the coming years.
“We capped it at 600. Then the pressure got to us, so we capped it at 800 kids, then at 1,000. Finally we settled at 1,200,” said lifeguard Battalion Chief Jim Turner.
“It makes you feel like you made a difference in a good way,” Boyer said Friday. “It’s totally inspirational that somehow you’ve touched somebody’s life.”
Turner estimated she’s touched at least 30,000 lives, from the children, parents and friends who have no doubt shared memories of summers at the beach or safety lessons given from instructors.
Boyer said that when she started out, she didn’t think it would turn into a career.
“It was still just a summer job,” she said. “The whole purpose of the program is to teach children how to be safe at the beach. Swimming in the ocean is a totally different experience.”
Even teaching every day was a different experience, Boyer said. That, and her co-workers, is what kept here coming back year after year.
“I don’t know if it’s one thing. It’s just being part of the community and making a difference. It makes you feel warm and fuzzy and happy inside and part of a group that you’re really proud of,” she said.
“We were professional co-workers and respected each other. But when she announced her retirement, it was one of those where everyone sat back and said, ‘Whoa. We’re going to miss a good friend,’” Turner said. “It was a terribly special time. One of those little idyllic events like a little Camelot.”
If You Go
What: Reenie Boyer’s retirement party and dinner
Where: American Legion Yacht Club, 215 East 15th St., Newport Beach
When: 6 p.m. Thursday
How Much: $30
Information: Call Jennifer Schulz at (949) 644-3110