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Lifeguards Deb and Tim Krodel have what you could call a fine-tuned ritual at the end of the day when they work together at Waterford Beach.
At 4:30 p.m., Deb visits any group with small children to say that she, her husband and the other lifeguards are nearing the end of their shift.
"I like them to know that we're in the process of going off," she says.
And at 5 p.m., Tim says from atop the central lifeguard perch into a megaphone, "The lifeguards are now off duty. Enjoy the rest of your day." He says it twice, turning his head once to visitors sitting to the right of the perch, once to visitors sitting to the left.
Having worked the beach for seven years, Deb and Tim have their routine down.
It's not the only thing the hooked-at-the-hip Waterford couple does in harmony. They met through their jobs as teachers at Norwich Technical High School, where in 1989 Deb started a volleyball league and Tim joined on to help her. In 1993, the two started dating. In 1995, they married.
Deb says that these days, people always ask them, "How do you stand spending so much time together?"
"We're best friends. We really like each other, too," she explains with a shrug. "It's easy."
The Waterford couple scored the lifeguard job through town Recreation and Parks Program Coordinator Kerry Sullivan, Deb's high school friend. Originally they planned on just being park directors, but lifeguarding soon got added to the menu.
The Krodels, who have two grown children, have an adopted family at the white sand strip of shoreline.
Deb refers to the three young lifeguards - Evan Pias, 21, Brett Pias, 18, and Jake Zoubek, 18 - working with her and her husband one Monday earlier this month, as the couple's "lifeguard children."
Two of the junior lifeguards - Evan and Brett - are indeed brothers, and their third brother also used to lifeguard at the beach.
"I followed in their footsteps," says Brett, the youngest.
Visitors make up the other faction of this sandy family. Standing at the base of the lifeguard perch, Deb points out a group of regulars sitting in beach chairs a few yards away who she says have become her good friends.
"These two ladies are here with us every day," she says.
One of the ladies, Ellen Knowles, 80, of Quaker Hill, has been coming to the beach since she moved to Waterford from New London 15 years ago. She describes the lifeguards as efficient and friendly and says of Waterford Beach, "It's the best beach ever."
He friend, Dianne Virga, 60, who Knowles met on the beach, says she comes down four times a week from Mansfield. She grew up in Waterford.
The Krodels do spend some time apart. They don't work every single shift together, notes Tim. And even on the days they work together, they may sit on different perches.
As Tim lowers the megaphone to his knee, beach-goers begin to rise from their settings at a staggered pace. They dust sand off their thighs, shake out their towels, fold up their beach umbrellas, and trickle toward the boardwalk that leads back to the parking lot.
Brett slings a rescue board on his back. It towers over him, leaving only his feet visible from behind as he makes his way to the equipment shed. His colleagues tote bags of first-aid supplies and towels to the same location.
Deb describes how the visitors "just expect you," some waiting on their towels until the 9 a.m. lifeguard shift starts so that they can start doing their laps under a protective gaze.
"It's an awesome place," says Deb.