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Girls, ages 13 and 14, save tourists from riptide in Barbados

by Staff

Belinda and Robert Stone were enjoying a peaceful afternoon together in Barbados — their favorite vacation destination. It was a warm but breezy afternoon, and they decided it was the perfect time to go for an ocean dip.

“We were floating around, saying how blissful this was, what a terrific holiday, etcetera,” said Belinda. “We swam out, not that far but enough to be out of our depth.”

The couple — who live in London — are both relatively strong swimmers, Belinda said, so they “felt fully confident” being in the ocean.

But they hadn’t considered just how strong the current was that particular day, Jan. 3. Although they had visited Barbados several times, they didn’t realize the specific area they drifted to was known for its strong riptide

The couple noticed that they were floating in the direction of the neighboring beach, so Belinda decided to swim toward the beach they came from, against the current.

She soon realized that her husband was trailing behind — and was suddenly too far away to even hear her. She attempted to swim to the shore to get help but struggled to push past the current.

“I just couldn’t get anywhere,” said Belinda, 64, who began to scream out for a lifeguard. No one came after a few minutes, and her mind wandered to the worst-case scenario: “Thank heavens I left our wills on the dining room table,” she thought to herself, as she let out another yelp.

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Two teenaged girls — Emma Bassermann, 14, and Zoe Ireland-Meklensek, 13 — were boogie boarding near the shore. Zoe spotted Belinda, who was about 85-feet away, and heard her cries for help. The two girls, both of whom live in Montreal, swam toward her.

They quickly reached Belinda, and Zoe helped pull her onto the boogie board. Belinda was drained from fighting the current, and worried about her husband.

“She said her husband was further out, and he was struggling to swim,” recalled Zoe “I told her to hold on tight, and I strapped the boogie board tether to my wrist. Emma was by my side for support.”

The girls swam parallel to the shore and brought Belinda to safety. Belinda, grateful but still scared, again repeated that her husband was stuck further out in the ocean. She asked for a lifeguard.

The girls told her there wasn’t a lifeguard around, and reassured her that they would go get him.

“The mother in me kicks in,” Belinda recalled.

She told them: “You can’t do that. You are too small.”

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There were some adults on the beach, Belinda said, but the girls were the only ones at the water’s edge.

Zoe told her they were in Barbados as part of a swimming camp and insisted that they are both experienced in the water. Before Belinda could say anything further, they swam off to get Robert — who was about 165-feet from the shore. They brought the boogie board with them.

After a few minutes, Zoe and Emma reached Robert, 68.

“He was shocked, and he was really out of breath. I could tell that he was really stressed,” said Zoe, who attached the tether to her ankle, and encouraged Robert to hold onto the boogie board.

“I reassured him that his wife was okay, and he was going to be okay,” said Zoe.

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While they pulled him to shore, Emma kept an eye on Belinda, who was waiting on the beach.

As they swam in, “the current kept pulling me back, but I kept going and going,” Zoe said, adding that although the swim was only a few minutes long, it was tiring because of the riptide.

“Both of us together made a really good team,” said Emma.

Relief washed over Belinda as the girls and Robert reached the shore.

“What really sticks in my mind is the calmness of those children,” said Belinda. “I do not think that there are many girls like Zoe and Emma. I just cannot get over how serene and poised they both were.”

“What an example for other people,” she continued. “These girls were tremendous and so self-effacing.”

Zoe and Emma said they acted on instinct. Emma swims competitively and was on a 10-day training trip in Barbados, while Zoe — who swam competitively until last year — now focuses on basketball. They were there with Zoe’s father, Chuck Meklensek, who is Emma’s swim coach

“I was so grateful that they were both okay,” said Emma, who is currently training for the Canadian Summer Olympic swimming trials in May.

Meklensek said he is very glad the girls were there to help.

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“We’re really proud, but even more than that, we’re impressed,” he said, noting that he was stunned that they managed to pull a man in.

For the remainder of their trip, the teens were treated like celebrities on the island. A local youth group presented them with an award, and gave them a gift basket with shirts, water bottles, keychains and other trinkets. They were also interviewed by the local paper, Barbados Today.

The girls — both of whom plan on getting their lifeguard certification when they turn 15, the minimum age — are hopeful that their story will encourage people to learn how to swim and develop water safety skills, especially people who swim in Barbados’ beaches. The island is known for its dangerous riptides — particularly in certain areas along the east coast. Strong currents have caused people to drown.

“Emma and I hope that word gets out that swimming is important,” said Zoe.

The Stones said they’ve learned their lesson about swimming when there’s a strong current — and they’re forever grateful to the girls.

“They really were like a couple of angels on that beach,” Belinda said.

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