COVID-19 threw many curveballs in my life, but I can say hand on heart I never envisaged 2020 would see me don the red and yellow uniform and become a lifesaver at the age of 30.
I’ve always loved the ocean but have been one of those people who take 10 minutes to test the water before finally mustering the courage to dip my head under. Our family would go to the beach every summer, but I was never part of a surf lifesaving club growing up.
During COVID I started my new role at Surf Life Saving Queensland and a few months into the job my boss Katie encouraged me to consider doing my Bronze Medallion.
There was some hesitation – what did it involve? How much time would I have to dedicate to it?
For some reason, I decided to give it a crack and signed up with Brisbane Lifesaving Service.
The first test was passing a 400m swim in nine minutes, a thought that made me initially feel quite sick. But after a swim with Dad at Noosa and a few more at the Yeronga Pool I started to feel more confident.
The day came where Nat, our Course Instructor, had to test me at the Somerville House pool. Again, the nerves set in. I burst out of the blocks like I was Cate Campbell in the 400m and then quickly faded. But all that counted was that I was under nine minutes at 8:40 to be exact.
Nat assured me that the “hardest part was over.” In my case, that was far from the truth.
From that day I had six weeks of theory, practical training and ultimately a test ahead of me as I tried to achieve my Bronze Medallion.
The first practical session took place at Currumbin Creek on the Gold Coast. After some friendly chatter with the other participants doing their Bronze, we commenced our first “Run, Swim, Run” which many people who have experienced lifesaving are familiar with.
We hadn’t gone for a swim yet and as we came around the sand to dive into the water the anxiety kicked in – I could hear Nat yelling “just dive in, don’t even think about it.” And somehow, I pushed my body to go underneath only to feel like I was having a panic attack coming out from the water as it was just so cold. After taking a couple of minutes to catch my breath I managed to finish the Run, Swim, Run.
Day one of the course at Currumbin Creek.
The next phase was practicing rescues on rescue boards. I had to rescue my friend Danielle, who luckily is as short as I am. I had no idea how physical rescuing someone is. Your whole body is involved in the effort to bringing them safely to shore. Later that afternoon we also learned tube rescues and spent time familiarising ourselves with paddling on the boards.
The best part about the first day in the water for me was that we were thrown headfirst into learning the techniques we would need to familiarise ourselves with.
For the next few weeks Tuesday night theory sessions saw us learning swim signals, CPR and using the defibrillator – until we had it perfect!
The weekend sessions mostly took place at Pacific Surf Life Saving Club on the Gold Coast, an absolutely idyllic beach with great waves to practice on.
Each week we went straight into the action and were in the surf for at least three hours. Nat was an excellent teacher with unparalleled experience in the surf and was generous in sharing her knowledge with us.
On the board at Pacific SLSC!
Despite all of this being so new to all of us in the course, we felt very safe in the hands of Nat, Helen or Shane, our Course Instructors. Each weekend there were a group of water safety experts who were only metres away with us in the water so if something went pear shaped or we needed advice, they were right there.
Over the weeks we became confident in using rescue boards to rescue people out the back of the surf, we learned how to treat people who may have suffered a spinal injury in the surf and even better, we became friends along the way.
Although again I was feeling nervous come assessment day, because the knowledge was so engrained in all of us over the past few weeks I felt quietly confident.
The assessment, which took place at Redcliffe, involved radio communication, signals, a Run Swim Run, board rescue, tube rescue and spinal.
At the end of the day, we all passed our Bronze Medallion.
On graduation day
I won’t lie, there were bumps and bruises along the way of the six-week course and sometimes I questioned why I would voluntarily go in the water when it was only 10 degrees, but receiving the iconic red and yellow uniform for the first time was a very special moment.
I feel proud that I stepped outside of my comfort zone to learn some incredible lifesaving skills that I may need both on and away from the beach. And it was a wonderful to feel part of a new community.
Article by Josie Fielding