Although she has been swimming competitively since age 7, Taylor Christie never imagined she would be training as a U.S. Coast Guard rescue swimmer.
Christie, 21, of Astoria, swam competitively through high school and, after graduating, began competing at Indiana State University. She studied to be an art teacher and had the goal of taking her swimming career to the Olympics.
However, Christie did not return for her third year of college.
“I left a bad relationship and I said, ‘You know what, let’s just come home and reset and figure out what I want to do,’” she said. “It was a super tough time for me. So it was just taking that time to heal.”
Christie got a job at the Astoria Aquatic Center as a lifeguard and swim instructor. She said she came to a point where she was tired of feeling sad.
“Through those tough times, you just have to power through and know there’s always going to be good on the other side,” she said.
While working at the aquatic center, she saw the training that Coast Guard rescue swimmers practice every Tuesday and Thursday.
“I would just sit there and watch them and think, ‘You know what, I’ve got to try that,’” she said with a laugh. “It just got to the point where it started driving me crazy ... So I got in and did a practice next to them, and I absolutely fell in love with it.”
Looking back, Christie remembers a high school swimming coach who had served in the Coast Guard ask her if she ever thought about being a rescue swimmer. At the time, she didn’t think much of it because she was set on being a college swimmer.
“It’s always been there in the back of my mind, but never did I ever think I would really go for it,” she said.
Christie contacted a recruiter and got into an Annex X program, which identifies potential aviation survival technicians, or rescue swimmers, and makes sure they meet the physical fitness requirements prior to boot camp.
She said her trainer, Jayme Toyas, has been instrumental in helping her train and build up muscle strength again.
“Taylor is one of the hardest workers I’ve ever had the pleasure of coaching,” Toyas said. “She is a natural athlete, and I saw early on in our training that the limits of a normal person would be nothing for Taylor to break through.”
Christie left for Cape May, New Jersey, last week for an eight-week boot camp. Afterward, she will get assigned to train from six months to a year. Then she can put her name down for an “A” School, which will be 16 weeks.
“That will be make or break,” she said.
The process is highly competitive and few women become rescue swimmers. Swimmers are expected to function at least 30 minutes in heavy seas during severe adverse weather conditions and survive on scene for more than 24 hours.
“The demands placed on a rescue swimmer’s body are extremely rigorous and require tons of full-body strength. Whether it’s lifting, swimming, running, jumping, Taylor is in tip-top shape,” Toyas said.
Christie is confident she will make it. “I have no doubt in my mind,” she said. “’I quit’ is not an option.”
She said she can visualize herself being a rescue swimmer and that drives her the most.
“Having gone through that very tough situation I was in, it’s made me a mentally stronger person ... it’s changed me for the better,” Christie said. “I wouldn’t change the way things have gone at all. It almost feels I was being built up for this.”