Better Know a Ranger: Jessica Kennedy

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The newest permanent lifeguard at Trunk Bay, Jessica Kennedy, is all smiles.

 

There’s a new friendly face at Trunk Bay these days — but besides just greeting you as you walk down the beach, Jessica Kennedy could save your life.

The new permanent V.I. National Park lifeguard at Trunk Bay, Kennedy has been swimming since she could barely walk. The Colorado native first entered a pool when she was six months old.

“My dad had back surgery and was doing water therapy and brought me to the pool with him,” said Kennedy. “I was six months old then and we’d go to the pool every day for his therapy. By the time I was four, I was on the swim team.”

Excelling at the 200 butterfly, back and freestyle strokes, Kennedy quickly became the star of swim squads from elementary through high school and even national traveling teams.

“I started coaching when I was 15 and was the captain of my swim team,” Kennedy said. “I was a lifeguard all through high school and did private lessons  and competed on the traveling team too.”

With an engaging personality that immediately makes people feel comfortable, it’s no wonder Kennedy is adept at instructing.
Classes for People
of All Ages

“I’ve coached people of all ages, from infants to elderly people,” she said. “I taught my great grandmother, who is 92 to swim a few years ago. Once you get the teaching technique down, it’s pretty easy.”

After high school, Kennedy studied at the University of Northern Colorado on a swimming scholarship. She transferred to the University of the Virgin Islands the next year to study marine biology and psychology.

That was four years ago, and in the interim, Kennedy worked as a bartender at Kokopelli Cafe — and a nanny for the owner’s children — a swimming coach and private swim instructor. The high-energy 24-year-old is also taking classes to become a certified massage therapist.

“My dad had several more back surgeries, about eight or nine,” said Kennedy. “He has spinal injuries and after the surgeries, he always needs physical therapy. So I’ve always been interested in physical therapy.”

Personal Interest in Therapy
“Then I dislocated my shoulder my first year in college and had my own therapy to deal with,” she continued. “I have four pins and three staples in my shoulder. So between my own therapy and my dad’s, I got really interested in massage and physical therapy.”

Kennedy’s father also enjoys the practice massages she is required to perform for her certification.

Taking full advantage of those massages, Kennedy’s parents joined her in the Virgin Islands two years ago.

VINP Work Runs In the Family
The family is also making the VINP a family affair, her father works in the mechanic and maintenance department. Kennedy actually found out about the lifeguard position through her dad. 

“My dad works for the park and he heard there was a lifeguard position open so I applied,” said Kennedy. “I started in mid-August in a temporary position for three months. Then I just recently got the permanent position, so it’s been really great.”

While working on one of the world’s most beautiful beaches is near the top of the list of Kennedy’s favorite things about lifeguarding at Trunk, it’s not at the top.

“I love meeting and talking to all the people on the beach,” said Kennedy, as she smiled and greeted people walking by the lifeguard stand on a recent afternoon. “It’s such a great atmosphere here. And, of course, this beach is amazing.”

 No Longer Stuck In A Pool
Growing up in Colorado, Kennedy didn’t have much of a chance to get her toes sandy.

“Being from Colorado, we don’t have a beach,” she said. “I was always stuck in a pool. So this is just great.”

“It did not take me long to get to used to this,” Kennedy continued. “All of the lifeguards get along really well together. I love it — it’s just so much fun.”

In addition to enjoying the beach at Trunk Bay, Kennedy also enjoyed a warm welcome from fellow VINP employees.

“Everyone is so open and welcomed me in,” said the lifeguard. “I’m new in the park system so it was really nice to have everyone be so welcoming to me.”

But it’s not all tanning and chatting — one of the Trunk Bay lifeguards is on a paddle board or kayak at all times. While that might be daunting for some, Kennedy’s biggest fear has wings.

“It’s only scary when a bee flies near me,” she said. “I hate bees. Other than that, it’s really fine.”

SCUBA And Free Diving
Since calling St. Thomas home, and Trunk Bay her office, Kennedy has been brushing up on her SCUBA and free-diving skills.

“I just reached the 102-foot mark which is my record for free diving,” said Kennedy. “It’s amazing and especially this time of year during whale migration season because when you get down to the 40-foot mark, you can hear them calling to each other.”

Kennedy also uses her skills for good causes, competing in — and winning — the Against the Tide Virgin Islands Swim for Breast Cancer three years in a row.

Between studying at UVI, massage therapy classes, diving and lifeguarding, Kennedy is definitely keeping busy — and that is just her pace.
“This is ideal,” she said.

So next time you’re on Trunk Bay, stop by the lifeguard stand and say hello to the newest permanent VINP employee — you’ll be glad you met Kennedy.