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Student Snapshot

Sarah Liebner is about to start her 12th semester at Rīga Stradiņš University (RSU). Sarah is from Germany, and has worked as a lifeguard there since she was a teenager. She has been active in organising lifeguarding courses at RSU that started in the autumn of 2018, and hopes they will re-start in some form this year as well. 

I think learning basic lifeguarding skills is important for everyone. You never know if you might reach a victim faster than a lifeguard does!



What prompted you to set up the lifeguard courses?

Simon Scheibner (the former VP of ISA in 2018), asked me about setting up lifeguarding courses after he heard about my interests. I contacted the Latvian lifeguarding association (LPGA), and they supported us in every possible way. 

How many people showed interest?

We finished 4 courses with 10-15 students in each. This spring we had just started the 5th course, which sadly had to be cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Most of the students who came were international students, but a few Latvian students joined as well! Everyone was welcome.

Tell me about your experience with being a lifeguard.

I got my junior lifesaver qualification when I was 13 years old. I continued putting in many hours of swimming training and theoretical education and started working as a lifeguard on a beach when I was 16 years old. Ever since, I spend most of my holidays at the beach, as well as hot summer days after school. Being a lifeguard for me is not only knowing certain techniques, but also about the ability to recognise risky behaviour and to prevent emergencies before they even happen. It takes a lot of observational skills. Also, as a lifeguard you spend your summer working outdoors, and enjoy the water and sun all day. What’s not to like about it?

Why do you think this is important to learn?

In case of an emergency, a lifeguard can notice a problem immediately, but still have a certain distance to run to the water site and swim to the person in need. Usually another swimmer is close by and can reach the victim faster. These brave beach visitors are usually risking their own lives to help others without even thinking about it. That’s why I think every swimmer should learn and practice how to approach and handle a drowning person, since they could be the first helper by coincidence.

What are the most common risky behaviours that you have observed?

Swimmers usually underestimate the wind and currents by the seashore. Blow-up mattresses can float away quickly with offshore winds! We have tides by the North Sea, which means that water comes and goes with unseen currents. Unsafe swimmers and children are especially prone to not being able to swim back to the shore. Additionally the tide leaves slippery stones and sharp shellfish behind which are a high risk for injuries.

Tell me about a memorable incident that you’ve experienced. 

This summer I was amazed to take over a victim from two teenage girls who had been the first swimmers to approach. They did a great job keeping the person afloat until the lifeguards arrived. 

Where did you spend the summer?

I was in Germany all summer. I spend a lot of time on a beach by the North Sea in my hometown and I did one week of lifeguarding in the Baltic Sea at Travemünde.

What do you have planned for the autumn, and would you bring back the lifeguard classes?

Since I will start my 12 semester now, I am not sure how involved I will be in organising anything, but we will try to keep the lifeguarding courses running. 


What’s your favourite swimming spot that you’ve been to?

My favourite spot would be the beach in my hometown, since I know it best. But the most impressive swimming spot for me was in South Africa at the Indian ocean, where I asked the local lifeguards to show me how to swim with the big surf waves and they did!