Community profile: Austin Rickstrew is Rifle Metro Pool’s fish in water
You might find Austin Rickstrew shuffling down the tall water slide on a blistering hot day, hose in hand, or running swim lessons when no one else is available, or visiting local high schools to recruit lifeguards.
Rickstrew, 25, is Rifle’s assistant parks and recreation manager, and the Rifle Metro Pool is his baby. Starting out as a lifeguard at 15, the Rifle native has since scaled the ranks of the city’s parks and recreation department using aquatic fervor as a trusty harness.
He’d go from lifeguarding, to lifeguarding and running swim lessons, and from assistant pool managing to recreational supervising. Following college at Colorado Mesa University, Ricktrew was hired full time as Rifle parks and recreation program manager.
“I’m very attached to it,” Rickstrew said of the pool.
Right before celebrating his 10-year anniversary with the city June 1, Rickstrew was promoted to be longtime Rifle Parks and Recreation Director Tom Whitmore’s right-hand man.
Rickstrew humbly considers the promotion bittersweet, however.
Bitter in that the former Rifle High School multi-athlete and outdoors lover said he likes not being at a desk all day, and that some of his new duties entail a less “hands-on” approach.
Sweet in that he’s now entrusted with more responsibilities by Whitmore — one of his mentors, who’s now in his 27th year with the city.
“He’s coached me and kind of let me take the rec. department by the reins and go the direction I wanted to,” Rickstrew said of Whitmore. “He supported me every step of the way, and it encouraged me through it all.”
Rickstrew admits he’s nervous but excited about exposure to the new position, a job that oversees all of parks maintenance, recreation, grounds and facilities as well the Ute Theater — Rifle’s premiere arts and entertainment venue.
The new reality doesn’t mean Rickstrew won’t be found poolside ever again. Instead, he sounded relieved when he’s still a part of the pool.
“We rec. guys get to do all the fun stuff,” Rickstrew said.
Since a guppy
Jay Rickstrew once came home from his job at Alpine Bank and detected a fresh scent of chlorine coming from his daughter, Ashley.
Ashley is Austin’s older sister and the first of the two to become a lifeguard. She would tell her father on that day there was a swimmer in distress and she had to jump in the pool.
“It’s a good summer job, but those kids have immense responsibility, and making sure that the people that are enjoying the pool are safe,” Jay Rickstrew said. “It’s more than just sitting out in the sun and enjoying the day.”
Austin took a cue from his sister and also became a lifeguard, and Jay said his son would build good work skills under the direction of former longtime pool manager Linda Stilson, who died in 2014. Stilson would teach kids the importance of having a job, Jay said.
“She was just a great role model for young adults,” Jay said of Stilson. “She kind of reinforced everything you tried to as a parent.”
Austin is a fourth-generation Garfield County native, who grew up playing basketball and soccer. Ashley was in volleyball as well as basketball. They were raised by their father and mother, Michelle, who formerly worked at the Garfield Re-2 School District.
Garfield County is home for the Rickstrews, Jay said. And he’s happy his son is doing something he loves.
“You gotta find something you like doing for a job that doesn’t really seem like a job,” Jay said. “It’s something you love to do and it’s something you enjoy doing every day, and I think he’s found his niche with the city.”
“He goes to work every day and he’s doing something he really enjoys doing.”
A fish in water
Rifle Metro Pool blew the former Art Dague Pool and Waterslide out of the water by expanding and adding features like a zero-entry pool with a play structure.
Rickstrew was so enamored by all the behind-the-scenes work to make the $8 million facility happen, its June 2020 ribbon cutting event is one of his most cherished memories.
“The old pool — we like to joke around — was held together by duct tape, chewing gum and a can of Flex Seal,” Austin said. “It was really needed,” he said of the new pool.
More importantly, attendance numbers were down. The only real amenity people were still taking advantage of was swim lessons, Rickstrew said. This prompted Rifle voters to approve a $6 million loan to support a new pool project that would completely revamp a facility originally built in 1969.
This also created a perfect storm for Rickstrew, who can recite monthly revenues and lifeguard staff numbers at a moment’s notice. Opening and operating an expanded facility that requires the hiring of more workers at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic wasn’t an easy task.
Still, Rickstrew helped recruit high schoolers to shore up the Rifle Metro Pool’s ongoing lifeguard shortage. Last year went from having 35 of the 70 lifeguards needed to 59 before opening on Memorial Day this year.
“Being able to be out on the deck and seeing kids in the flow channel and playing on the play structure?” Austin said when asked what he enjoys about summertime at the pool. “Just the laughter that comes out of that place when we’re open, it’s a great thing to be a part of.”
Reporter Ray K. Erku can be reached at 612-423-5273 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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