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Ride the heat wave, don't fight it

Tony Caramello, getting a shove from lifeguard Chris Peters, participated in last year’s junior lifeguard program offered by the county. There are plenty of camps that offer a way to adjust to the heat.

DIRK SHAD | Times (2009)

Tony Caramello, getting a shove from lifeguard Chris Peters, participated in last year’s junior lifeguard program offered by the county. There are plenty of camps that offer a way to adjust to the heat.

It is hot, buggy, some might say muggy. I love it.

For many Floridians, July, with its high humidity and temperatures in the 90s, is the most reviled month of the year. It seems as if a day doesn't go by that a friend or colleague doesn't stop to ask, "It is hot enough for you?"

I laugh and pretend to share their pain. But it's an act. I have no sympathy. I am the outdoors guy.

Twenty years ago, when I first started this job, I learned pretty quickly that if I wanted to be successful, I couldn't let a little thing like the weather stand in the way. Wind, rain, heat and cold … minor inconveniences.

As I tell my kids, it is a simple case of mind over matter: "If you don't mind, it doesn't matter."

To make the most of the Sunshine State, you have to be a Man for all Seasons. Easier said than done? Perhaps. But I do have a bit of advice for those interested in making the most of summer.

Think like a 10-year-old.

When I was a boy growing up in the suburbs of New Jersey, we had our share of 100-degree summer days. But that didn't stop us from living outdoors. From sunup to sundown we would run wild through the neighborhood … riding bikes, building forts, doing the stuff kids did before video games.

When we got hot, we'd sit under a tree. When we got thirsty, we'd jump a fence and drink out of somebody's garden hose. We never wore sunscreen or insect repellent. If you skinned your knee falling off your bike, you dug the rocks out of your leg, climbed back on and kept riding. It was summer, for Pete's sake, and the only thing that really mattered was NO SCHOOL!

At the end of the day, I'd come home, burnt and bug-bitten, wolf down Mom's spaghetti, pretend to bathe, then crawl into bed (without TV) and sleep like a well-fed lion till birds woke me up the next morning, when I would get up and do it again.

When I moved to Florida in 1980, I didn't realize that most sensible folks avoided the heat during the height of summer. I didn't know any better. I lived here in the tropics for nearly 20 years before I bought a car that had air conditioning. All I needed was a few pairs of shorts, a few T-shirts, a hoodie for the wintertime and I got along just fine.

But times have changed. We think differently about kids and the outdoors. Sure, we'll let them play outside, but only if they are covered from head to toe, protected from all of nature's evils.

My mom, on the other hand, had a more Nietzsche-like approach to child rearing. This mother of nine believed that which does not kill us, surely makes us stronger.

I remember once being stung multiple times by a swarm of angry insects. Calmly she picked the stingers out, one by one, then offered some advice: "Next time, don't throw rocks at a hornets' nest."

There are, however, better ways to learn. You don't have to stand on a mound of fire ants to figure out that they bite.

One way to make your offspring kids for all seasons is to enroll them in one of the many outdoor summer camps found throughout the Tampa Bay area. Want to teach your kids water safety? Sign them up for Junior Lifeguard Camp at Fort De Soto County Park. Hope they develop a healthy respect and appreciation for the marine environment? Enroll them in one of Tampa Bay Watch's marine studies programs.

My personal favorites are the camps at St. Petersburg's Boyd Hill Nature Park. The city offers camps for budding naturalists, herpetologists and ecologists. A T-shirt worn by one of the program's longtime educators, "Mr. George" Heinrich summed up the general camp philosophy: "Kid-Tested; Mother Nature-Approved."

My kids come home after a long day of chasing bugs and lizards (technically they're called anoles), tired and worn out, ready for bed, but looking forward to the next day's adventure.

We should follow their lead, forget about the heat and humidity, and focus on fun. After all, it's summer.

Terry Tomalin has abandoned the pool and hit the ocean in his quest to be on or in the water as many days as he can this year. He can be reached at (727) 893-8808.

Ride the heat wave, don't fight it 07/01/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, June 30, 2010 9:31pm]
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