Lifeguard training helps Michigan mother overcome fear of water four years after son drowns

Published: Jun. 13, 2022 at 7:11 PM EDT
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ST. JOSEPH, Mich. (WNDU) - For many lifeguard trainees at Silver Beach on Monday, jumping into the waters of Lake Michigan is was easy. But for Michigan mother Brandi Donley, it is something she had not done for years.

“We’re coming up on almost four years in August, and there has been a lot of dark times and I’m just trying to look for some light,” Donley said.

In the summer of 2018, Donley says her 20-year-old son, Brandon Schmidt, drowned at a beach in Port Sheldon while swimming in Lake Michigan. According to Great Lakes Surf Rescue Project Executive Director Dave Benjamin, Schmidt was one of 117 drownings that year, the most drownings recorded since 2010.

“Brandi Donley lost her son, Brandon Schmidt, back in July of 2018 and shortly after his drowning incident, she got in touch with the Great Lakes Surf Rescue Project,” Benjamin said.

Since then, Donley says she has made it her mission to learn more about drowning prevention and lifeguarding, which is why she has turned to Benjamin for advice.

“I wanted to come here and get that hands-on experience with them and see the lifeguards in action, and see what it’s all about,” Donley said.

For Benjamin, yearly lifeguard training is a must, especially at a time where there is so many positions to fill.

“There is a huge opportunity to become a lifeguard. It’s a very important lifesaving position, a lot of responsibility, a lot of character building,” Benjamin says.

And while spreading information about swimmer safety will always be a top priority for Benjamin, Donley says she also is thankful for his ability to help her get back in the water for the first time four years.

“I think getting over my fear, and seeing all of this first hand, educating myself even more is part of that process,” Donley says.

To sign up for lifeguard training, visit Great Lakes Surf Rescue Project ( To become a lifeguard, contact your local beach for opportunities including Silver Beach County Park, New Buffalo Beach, Warren Dunes State Park Detail, etc.

For more information on lifeguard certifications or courses, visit click here.

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