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To Olivia Rosewall, her rescue effort at Bronte Beach last month was simply the product of her three years in Surf Life Saving; an unassuming, even unspectacular – save for a few dumping waves – paddle out to a swimmer who had floated a little too far outside the flags. To Isabella Mancera, it was a sequence of actions that meant the world.

“It was one of those days at Bronte where the far north end near the rocks was a bit of a washing machine with the waves sucking up hard and a rip current that could put you on an express route around to the next beach,” Olivia recalled.

It was 5 February, only a handful of days before the start of one of the worst weeks for drownings in NSW history, and the Patrol team had set the flags in what had been deemed the safest section of the beach, but part way through the shift they noticed a handful of swimmers steadily drifting out the back and outside the flags.

“I decided to grab my fins and a tube with the intention of swimming out to check if everyone was ok,” she continued.

“It was lucky timing that I was already entering the water because our team noticed Isabella needed help, so I was able to get to her relatively quickly.

“We got picked up and smashed down by a few waves before I finally got us back onto a sand bank in the flags.

“I was then straight back out to assist some others.”

It’s part and parcel of the job of a volunteer lifesaver. There is no expectation of recognition or reward, only the desire to be there for those who need it and the knowledge that every life saved along our coastline contributes, more widely, to the value of the movement.

But a Facebook message sent to the Bronte Surf Life Saving Club later that day told a different story. Isabella’s mother, Mary, felt compelled to reach out and try to find Olivia to thank her for her actions.

“We really want to find this lifesaver, she saved my daughter’s life today,” the message had read.

Through the power of social media, the pair was reconnected and shared in the memory of that sunny Sydney afternoon in February.

“A few weeks before Isabella’s rescue, there was a rescue in a similar spot at the north end, off the rocks, during our patrol,” Olivia said.

“We had a debrief at the end of that patrol and spoke about what we would do if someone needed rescuing again in a similar spot.

“Fortunately, we were able to get Isabella rescued with a tube and no need for back up, but that informal training through briefings and debriefings is really valuable.”

“I would consider myself a confident swimmer,” Isabella said.

“My visits to the beach aren’t too regular, I go a few times during summer, but nothing serious has ever happened to me before whilst being in the water.

“It all can happen in a matter of minutes, even seconds.

“Since being rescued, it has made me realise the importance of observing the waves, knowing your swimming level and confidence, but most importantly, staying between the flags.”

There’s no doubt that different circumstances could have led to a different, and potentially more distressing outcome, and Olivia revelled in the fact her Patrol team empowers her every day she’s on the beach to be confident in her abilities.

“I am lucky to have some of my best friends on my patrol and a bunch of great role models, which makes me look forward to every patrol shift,” she said.

“They are all an important part of my sense of belonging within the Bronte community.”

“It’s very comforting to know that if a situation arises, we have people on the beach like those in the Bronte Patrol team that are trained to help and keep us safe,” Isabella added.

“The work that our lifesavers and lifeguards do needs to be recognised and celebrated on a larger scale.”

As a charitable organisation, Surf Life Saving depends on donations to maintain its surf lifesaving service and patrols. Visit Surf Life Saving Foundation to make a difference.

Wednesday 22 March 2023