SUMMERSIDE — Heart pounding, adrenaline pumping, Kennedy Crossland quickly jumped into action, leaving behind an afternoon of sunbathing to help someone in distress.
Running across the hot sand, rough seas just ahead, she and friend Shanglee Tran raced to the uncertain waters, never once hesitating.
Before them was a young girl, no more than eight, struggling in the choppy waters. She was drowning. Every second that ticked by brought the youngster closer to tragedy.
“Let’s go,” Kennedy shouted to her friend when they heard the girl’s cries for help.
The seasoned lifeguard knew what to do.
The 16-year-old’s training — something she, fortunately, hasn’t had to put into action often — and quick thinking would give the struggling youngster the best chance to come out from the current’s grip alive.
It was Monday afternoon, just after 2 o’clock, when the teens hit the beach at Twin Shores. They were there with a group of friends, heeding the warnings of dangerous surf conditions, dipping only their toes in the warm summer waters of the north shore.
A day of lazing on the beach, and soaking up the sun was the plan.
“There were a lot of people on the beach and, surprisingly, a lot of people out in the water even after hearing the warning. Even Twin Shores had put out a warning not to go into the water,” said Kennedy, a lifeguard at Credit Union Place’s aquatics centre in Summerside. “It was insane how people did not know the dangers of the water.”
Whitecaps filled the sea as the waves grew in size. When Kennedy and Shanglee ventured out only a couple of feet, they could feel the current’s angry grip, which pulled at their ankles, prompting them to head back into shore.
But, something, rather someone, caught their eye — that young girl, walking further out in the waves, trying to get to the sandbar where countless other swimmers had, luckily, safely reached.
Then came the cries for help, the young girl’s apparent struggle with the waves, that were pulling her out, bringing her down, their grip strong and potentially fatal.
“We were like, ‘how did she get out there’. She was yelling and screaming and we were like, oh, my god, we have to get her,” said Kennedy.
There was no lifeguard on duty, something the girls didn’t know at the time and something that likely wouldn’t have stopped them any way.
Another friend joined them, not as strong of a swimmer. The current began to overtake her, prompting her to return to the safety of the shore.
The young girl, the teens estimated, was about 25 feet out, the waves crashing against her small body, sweeping over her head.
“Whenever we get her, we are holding her and the waves are so big,” said Shanglee, a strong swimmer. “I was almost done. I pushed myself onto this rock.”
Then, suddenly, out of the corner of her eye, something caught her attention.
“I looked over and there was another kid in the distance crying.”
Kennedy, who had a grip on the girl, handed her off to Shanglee, and started swimming against the current to reach the boy, no more than 11.
“There are three different kinds of drowning,” explained Kennedy. “There is a distressed swimmer and there is a drowning victim. Then there is the submerged... when you have to do CPR and things like that.
“It got to the point when I got to him he was almost submerged. He was crying and struggling. The waves were going over his face and he was being pulled.”
The current began pulling at Kennedy. Thinking she, too, may be in danger she still didn’t panic, instead putting into action her years of water-safety training.
“He’s underwater when I get to him. I have to actually bring him up. I get him out of the water and his face — it was so scary. He was so pale.”
After coughing up some water, the boy was fine. Quickly, his mother arrived at his side. The young girl, by this time, was already gone with her parents.
Both were believed to have been visitors to P.E.I.
“I just know after, our adrenaline was up, our hearts were pumping,” said Kennedy.
News of their heroics quickly spread, the chatter of the campground.
It was just days earlier that a 69-year-old Washington D.C. woman lost her life in the waters off the north shore, caught up in the riptide off of Lakeside Beach.
Surf conditions at the time were dangerous and warnings issued that day from Parks Canada for swimmers to stay out of the water.
Fortunately, this story had a happy ending and, said Kennedy, comes with a lesson.
“You need to know the dangers of the water. As much as it is a beautiful place, you need to know how dangerous the water actually is — and we know that,” said Kennedy. “Get into swimming lessons and understand the dangerous of the water. Learn how to swim. And never swim by yourself.”
Neither girl sees themselves as heroes. And neither is looking for accolades.
As Kennedy nonchalantly put it, she was just doing what she was trained to do.