By Shelly Makrugin with photo by Keith J. Howie

“It was very shocking to see how strong the current was in the middle of the river.”

Leduc teen Rebecka Blackburn was enjoying an afternoon with family at the North Saskatchewan river in Devon in July 2018 when she noticed a man swimming in the water was in trouble. She didn’t hesitate to jump in and pull him to shore.

“I have never experienced a rescue that was as scary/intense as this one, and I am thankful that my training kicked in to autopilot. Seconds before I approached him he had submerged under the water, and I instantly dove down and pulled him up on to my hip.”

Blackburn is a certified Red Cross Lifeguard and Water Safety Instructor and was a competitive swimmer for eight years. Even though she knew river currents were unpredictable and dangerous, Blackburn was still surprised at its strength.

Rebecka Blackburn, pictured here with her mother, receiving the Canadian Red Cross Rescuer Award.“I was completely taken aback when I fatigued so quickly swimming to the man, as even with the immense adrenaline that I had pumping through my body, I still had never felt so exhausted swimming in such a short period of time.”

 Blackburn was able to bring the man safely to shore. She was awarded the Red Cross Rescuer Award at the annual Red Cross Alberta Water Safety Conference in October. The award acknowledges the efforts of non-professional rescuers.

“This whole situation feels very extraordinary and surreal. It’s hard for me to acknowledge my actions as heroic, as the rescue to me was less of a random act, and more so the act of my training being applied to reality.”

Blackburn calls receiving the award a “great honour” and remains committed to water safety.
 
“Although I appreciate the recognition, I am even more grateful for the water safety awareness that my rescue has brought to the public.” 
 
Blackburn also recommends any swimmer, regardless of their strength, should always wear a lifejacket and never go out in the river alone.
 
The Canadian Red Cross offers an array of swimming and water safety training and certification courses.