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Innisfail swimmer earns Bates Wardle Award

Teen selected for volunteerism and dedication to lifeguarding

INNISFAIL – For the third year in a row the prestigious Bates Wardle Award was handed out last week to a worthy volunteer-oriented Grade 12 graduate who is committed to lifeguarding excellence.

However, Gavin Bates, who created the award with hero lifeguard Bob Wardle of Cochrane, emphasized to young junior swimmers of the Innisfail Hurricanes, that they too can be recognized for making a difference in the pool and their community.

“Since all of you are connected to the Innisfail swimming fraternity, I would encourage you to embrace the story and encourage young people age 12 to Grade 12 to apply for the 2021 award,” said Bates at the Innisfail Aquatic Centre on Oct. 19 for the official unveiling of this year’s Bates Wardle Award.  “The first three recipients were Grade 12 but younger applicants in various stages of volunteering and lifeguard training or involvement are eligible.”

Sarah Gette, 18, a 2020 graduate of Innisfail High School, was selected this year’s Innisfail’s recipient of the award, which recognizes volunteerism and lifeguard training and achievement. She follows local teens Katherine Gabert and Zike Maree who were selected in 2019 and 2018 respectively. Cochrane recipient Erika Fisher, a Grade 10 student, will also soon be officially named as an award winner. 

“It means a lot being chosen for this award, knowing the story behind it. I really take to it as I have been lifeguarding for a few years. It’s good to know the importance of the job and how valuable it is,” said Gette, who has been a lifeguard for the past two and half years at the local aquatic centre. Gette volunteered three years with the Innisfail Dolphins before becoming an assistant coach. She has been with the Dolphins for a total of 12 years.

“I was very excited to have won this award, especially just knowing its nature and what it was about,” she said.

Gette is taking a year off school before pursuing her post-secondary education in nursing. Before resuming her studies, Gette has committed herself to become a senior lifeguard, a big step towards a goal of becoming a head lifeguard. “That will give me more responsibility and is more of what I am looking for,” she said.

All winners have been inspired by the miraculous and heroic story of Cochrane’s Wardle, who saved the life of Bates’ late wife Frankie on a hot summer morning in the southeastern village of Tilley, Alta. on Aug. 10, 1951. She was then just a 20-month-old toddler who had fallen into a 13-foot cistern.

Wardle, who was then 15-years-old and a recently certified lifeguard from Brooks, was lowered into the cistern's cold blackness. It took three attempts to find young Frankie, who had been underwater for about 15 minutes. Wardle then used his training and administered artificial respiration to bring Frankie back to consciousness.

She lived an extra 65 years to have a remarkable and inspirational life. Wardle was hailed a hero, earning the first-ever Mountbatten Medal, now awarded annually, and only to a citizen from a Commonwealth nation, for the most gallant rescue or attempt undertaken in the previous calendar year. In later years Wardle and Frankie became close friends. He even attended Frankie's marriage to Gavin.

Today Wardle – now 84-years-old, lives coincidentally on the same Cochrane street as Bate’s son Michael, wife Alyssa and four children. Bates has another son Stephen who lives in Innisfail with wife Kim and three children.  One other son Mark, and his wife Sara, live in Singapore. Wardle’s heroics saved 11 people, and forever impacted four others, including the elder Bates.

He told the group of young swimmers last week that the Bates Wardle Award, administered as a registered charity by the Calgary Foundation, comes with a $750 cash bursary.

“Some of the kids might use it for better training. We might get some very young people down the road, and they use it for each step to get to be a lifeguard,” he said.

They were also told Frankie’s descendants will carry on with the annual award for future generations.

Last March Bates installed plaques at the entrance of the aquatic centre that document the award and list the annual winners.