INNISFAIL – Rosa Waddell Huaripata is a young lady who may at first glance be unassuming but she’s full of passion when it comes to the value of serving others.
“I really think lifeguarding is not just watching over the pool watching over the people, but it’s also watching over your community, and I truly think that's amazing,” said Rosa, who is not only a stellar student academically, but a passionate student of the legacy created by Bob Wardle on Aug. 10, 1951.
“He was watching out for his community and all the members within that community, and that's what drove him to save Frankie,” she added. “I think that's what everyone should have when they're lifeguarding out there. They're not just people. They're members of our community, and they're essentially our family.”
Rosa, 18, is Innisfail’s sixth winner of the Bates Wardle Award, an honour created in 2018 by family and friends in memory of Frances (Frankie) Bates to carry the legacy of lifeguarding bravery and service.
The 2023 award honours two volunteer-oriented students from Innisfail and Cochrane, and is designed to celebrate their commitment to volunteerism, as well as recognizing the importance of the role that lifeguards play in the community.
This year’s Cochrane winner is Grade 9 student Gemma Caddel. Each winner receives a $750 cash bursary to cover past and future training expenses.
Gavin Bates, an Innisfail community builder, spearheaded the family effort to create the award following the passing of his wife Frankie on June 29, 2017. Frankie was 67.
“We were a hockey family but as we looked for a way to recognize Frankie’s life, we looked within her life,” said Bates on Nov. 2 to a group of young swimmers at the Innisfail Aquatic Centre during his presentation of the 2023 Bates Wardle Award to Rosa.
“Many in Innisfail will remember her for her volunteerism in family-related sports, the school, the food bank or other worthy causes in the community.”
Wardle, now 87, was unable to attend this year’s Innisfail award presentation due to health reasons but Bates was there to offer the young swimmers the amazing story of what occurred in that sunburnt dusty southeastern Alberta village 72 years ago – an act of heroism that changed and saved the lives of not only Frankie but many others as well.
Wardle, who was then just 15-years-old, saved Frankie’s life when she was just a 20-month-old toddler.
Frankie had fallen four metres into a 10-foot-deep cistern outside a Tilley residence.
Wardle, who had recently completed a lifeguard course, squeezed into the tight 16 inch-square cistern opening to rescue the child. After four harrowing minutes he finally found her after three attempts and then pushed her up through a three-foot long chute to safety. It was later estimated the child had been underwater for 15 minutes.
“I honestly thought it was astonishing how he (Wardle) just went right into that tank and took Frankie out at the time,” said Rosa. “And what I find really surprising is there was so much stuff on top of the tank, and it was murky water.
“I have no idea how he did it but he had the courage to go in there and save that little toddler and I really think that's truly admiring.”
Frankie was saved to have a long, wonderful and productive life until her passing in 2017. She had 65 additional years of living because of Wardle’s heroism.
Frankie's survival meant meeting and marrying Gavin. They raised three boys -- Stephen, Michael, and Mark. The couple had seven grandchildren. Eleven people saved.
Her rescue led to Wardle being recognized by the Royal Lifesaving Society. He was selected 72 years ago as the recipient of the first Lord Mountbatten Lifesaving Award in the entire group of British Commonwealth countries.
Meanwhile, Rosa, a graduate of École Secondaire Notre Dame High School, has come a long way since coming to Canada in 2013 from Lima, Peru.
“I might add aquatic centre supervisor Dawn Murray refers to Rosa as her ‘quiet one’ so Rosa being chosen is fitting proof that even quiet people are recognized for their contributions,” said Bates.
He told his audience Rosa is a volunteer with her church and exercises her passion for music by entertaining at the Innisfail Health Centre.
Bates said she was part of a class project in conjunction with victim services to raise money for a service dog.
As for lifeguarding, Rosa completed her Bronze Medallion and Bronze Cross awards and her certification as a Red Cross Water Safety Instructor.
Rosa is employed at the Innisfail Aquatic Centre in reception and teaches swimming lessons, added Bates.
Next year Rosa is going to the University of Toronto to study forensic sciences.
“The campus I'll be going to in Mississauga has a lifeguarding job at their pool, so I’ll most likely apply there,” said Rosa, more convinced than ever of lifeguarding’s value for all communities, big or small. “We know a lot about first aid, and if there is to be a rescue we know how to save people.
“You don't have to necessarily be in a pool to perform a rescue. You can be out anywhere,” she added. “You're now playing a really important role into your community.”