Montreal teens hailed as heroes for saving couple from drowning in Barbados

Click to play video: 'Quebec teens recognized for heroic water rescue in Barbados'
Quebec teens recognized for heroic water rescue in Barbados
WATCH: Quebec teens recognized for heroic water rescue in Barbados – Jan 8, 2024

It was just before 3 p.m. on a sunny but windy day last week on a beach on the south side of Barbados when Emma Bassermann and Zoe Meklensek-Ireland finished boogie boarding.

Emma, a competitive swimmer who trains with the Dorval swim club, was on a 10-day training camp in Barbados. She had an afternoon training session to get to. Zoe’s father Chuck Meklensek is the national development coach for the Dorval swim club, and Zoe trained up until last year as a competitive swimmer.

The girls were heading in when Zoe heard a cry for help.

“I heard someone yelling for help in the distance. I was looking around for her and I spotted her and she was about 50 feet out from where I was,” 13-year-old Zoe said.  “So I went out to her and she told me that her husband was further out and he was struggling to swim and he needed assistance.”

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Zoe, along with 14-year-old Emma’s help, managed to bring London, England resident Belinda Stone back to shore.

“We swam out not realizing rip tides were known in this area,” Stone said.

When she understood she couldn’t swim back in, Stone thought it best to alert a lifeguard and that’s when she started shouting for help.

“Luckily Zoe heard me,” Stone said, admitting she did think about what would happen if her cries went unanswered.

“I was calm and resigned to the fact that if no one heard me this was it and thank heavens I left the wills on the dining room table,” she said.

Back on solid ground, Stone was relieved but concerned for her husband, who was now flailing in the water about 150 feet from shore. The girls said Stone tried to dissuade them from going out because she was concerned for their welfare.

“I was very concerned that they were so young and did not want them to go out as well,” Stone said. “Not to save a man in their 60s.”

But the resort where they were staying had no lifeguards on duty, and there were few other adults on the beach to help.

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“The undertow that day was pretty strong, which I think contributed to the fact of them being pulled out,” Emma said.

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With the waves pounding the shore, the girls knew there was no one else to help the man, Robert Stone. And they needed to act quickly.

They grabbed Zoe’s boogie board, and both of them headed out for the five- or six-minute swim to reach Robert.

“When we reached him he was trying to swim but we could tell he was struggling. He was breathing very heavily. We tried to stay as calm as we could but we could tell he was stressed out,” Zoe said. “I helped him and put him on the boogie board.”

Zoe strapped the boogie board to her ankle, and with Emma’s guidance, the two girls swam in. They said it was challenging because the current was so strong. They had to swim parallel to the beach until they found a break in the waves.

“It was a pretty long swim, especially as the waves were coming in diagonally, so we had to work against them before coming in. It was a pretty long time to come in,” Emma said. “It was a long and tiring swim. I learned from both my parents that when there is a really strong current you never swim against it. You swim parallel to shore until it lessens or you are completely out of it otherwise you will be sucked out more and more. I already knew that is what I had to do and I think adrenaline pumping, everything that I was taught came back to me.”

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Incredibly, the girls swam Stone back to shore. They were worried he might need further help, such as CPR, which they weren’t trained in. But he regained his composure quickly and the girls were relieved he was OK. Only after it was all over did what happened really sink in.

“I did not want to show them I was scared because that would make them more worried about our safety and their own so we tried to stay as calm as we could,” Zoe said.

And that, Stone said, is what struck her most about Zoe. “How calm she was.”

With the man safe, news spread quickly around the island about the girls’ heroic actions. The president of the local youth democratic party presented the girls with an award for their bravery.

“We are just enormously grateful to Zoe and Emma. They saved our lives,” Stone said.

Meklensek for his part, said he was simply astonished by the girls’ actions, but not surprised they were able to save the couple as they are both such strong swimmers.

“I am so proud of both of them. I don’t think they realize how much this means,” Meklensek said. “They saved lives to come in here. It could have been way worse. It’s amazing they did this. The waves can get pretty treacherous, the undertow can get pretty treacherous.”

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Meklensek said it should serve as a reminder to everyone how important swim lessons are to children.

“My feeling is every child should be doing swimming until at least age 10 or even 12. If the boat tips over, you want to swim to shore, these girls know how to swim to shore and pull someone in,” he said. “It’s the only sport that is a life-or-death sport and they learned it really well.”

While Zoe is taking a pause on swimming lessons to concentrate on basketball, Emma is pursuing her swimming dreams, training to compete in May’s swim trials for the summer Olympics. Her goal is to swim for Canada at the 2028 Olympics. But in the shorter term, both girls plan on getting their lifeguarding certification when they are old enough.

Reflecting on their feat, they are both proud of what they did.

“I think we both handled it extremely well and did what we needed to do to help them,” Emma said.

“I  am very thankful they were OK,” added Zoe.

The girls return to Montreal on Jan. 10, coming home as real-life heroes.

— With files from Global News’ Annabelle Olivier

Click to play video: '‘Human chain’ formed to rescue stranded swimmer'
‘Human chain’ formed to rescue stranded swimmer

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