It had been a long day for Lucy Stroud – competing in surf lifesaving for her club at the national champs in multiple draining, challenging events.
All she wanted to do was relax with a warm-down swim at her home beach in Christchurch.
And yet when she heard someone was in trouble in the surf, she didn’t hesitate to jump in and save them.
The 20-year-old had been competing for the Taylors Mistake Surf Life Saving Club at the New Zealand surf lifesaving championships in March. The competition was at nearby New Brighton Beach, and she’d come to Taylors Mistake for her recovery dip.
“I was quite tired after a long day of competition,” says Stroud, who’d competed in the water events of the board, surf ski and Ironwoman.
She still had finals to go the next day, but when people on the beach alerted her to a swimmer struggling in a rip, she grabbed a rescue board from the club and ran into the surf.
“When I heard someone was in trouble, I knew I’d have to get something to go help them,” she says. “I was just glad I was there and able to help out.”
The conditions were tricky and taxing for Stroud, but she got help from local surfers to bring the man back to shore.
“The waves were really big that weekend, which was really good for the competition, but not so good when I’m trying to get out the back to do a rescue,” says Stroud.
As well as the physical effort to retrieve the man after a long day of competing, Stroud says the mental side of a rescue is just as challenging.
“You never know what situation you’re getting yourself into,” she says. “I just decided to go out, go for a paddle, go see what was happening…you don’t know what you’re going to find out there.”
After bringing the man to safety, other club members brought the first aid kit, blankets and towels to help with his hypothermia symptoms, before paramedics arrived and he was taken to the hospital in an ambulance.
Stroud was able to compete on the final day, where Taylors Mistake finished ninth overall. Stroud collected a handful of top 10 finishes across various disciplines.
Stroud comes from a great Kiwi sporting family – her dad, Alan, played football for New Zealand and mum, Helen, was a Black Fern who played at the Rugby World Cup in 1991, and a netballer who coached the Mainland Tactix for four seasons.
Lucy says her parents never pushed her into any sports, but they definitely encouraged her and her two siblings Ben and Georgia.
“They were mostly supportive of doing what we chose, but Mum definitely had the influence for netball for Georgia and me, and Dad definitely influenced our brother to play football,” she says.
Helen competed in surf lifesaving when she was younger, and also got into coaching in Christchurch.
The youngest of the three, Lucy joined nippers at Taylors Mistake as soon as she was able to, alongside her siblings.
“It’s the only club I’ve ever been to so I would have been competing with them for about 12 years now, cause you start competing in the under eights,” she says.
Stroud jokes that she played “almost every single sport growing up”, but she always knew how important surf lifesaving was.
“All Kiwis should know how to swim and learn how to swim from a young age,” she says.
“If everyone educated themselves about beach safety – what is a rip, how to get out of it – then we would minimise so many incidents that occur every year.”
Competing in surf lifesaving for over a decade has given Stroud a lot of tools to help in other aspects of her life, too.
She’s nearing the end of her degree at the University of Canterbury – studying psychology and criminal justice. Unsure where her degree might take her, and just focusing on the study itself for now, she still has a few ideas.
“Because mum’s always been in the police, I’ve always thought about that,” she says.
Her sport would prepare her for a high-pressure, high-stakes career.
“It’s a high thrill-seeking sport, and every race is going to be different as well,” she explains. “The quick thinking and everything you train up to be as a lifeguard, you can definitely apply to other areas in life.”
For her rescue, Stroud was awarded the bp Rescue of the Month, with a reward of $500 of fuel vouchers for the Taylors Mistake club.
“There are so many good rescues that go on across the country from lifeguards on and off duty, so it was really good to get the rescue of the month,” Stroud says. “The award definitely goes a long way with the IRBs, being able to do more rescues, so it’s pretty cool.”
Surf Life Saving NZ’s national lifesaving manager Andy Kent praised Stroud’s actions.
“Even after a long day competing, Lucy’s quick thinking and skilled response in rescuing the swimmer caught in the rip, saved a life,” he says.
“Her heroic actions demonstrate the importance of having fit, well-trained and committed surf lifeguards who look out for the safety of others.”
Being able to put into practice all she’s learned at Taylors Mistake is one of Stroud’s favourite things about the sport.
“To be able to apply the skills and everything you’ve learned with racing, to be able to actually save someone’s life is pretty special. Not many other sports can do that,” she says.
It’s something she’s eager to carry on with as she enters the workforce.
“People do grow out of it, with going away for uni and everything, but I think that’s it’s such a good thing to have,” Stroud says.
“You can come back every summer, even if you don’t want to compete, there’s still voluntary lifeguarding to be part of the community which is really special.
“But I definitely plan on being in it for a long time.”