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Lives saved, death, trauma and ‘moving on’

Lauren Pryor and Cale Callaghan were each awarded a ‘Meritorious Award with Bronze Insert’ at the Surf Life Saving Australia National Awards of Excellence. Cale was unable to attend due to study commitments. Inset: Cale Callaghan on duty. Images: Contributed

Geoff Helisma

On Boxing Day in 2016 lifeguards Cale Callaghan and Lauren Pryor were on duty at Wooli. The sea state was rough and the time between the “dumpy” waves short: conditions that resulted in three body boarders being swept out of the flagged area.

The lifeguards swung into action, coming to the aid of the body boarders and safely returning them to shore. Meanwhile, a tragedy was unfolding. An elderly man was in trouble, too.

Lauren swam out to the man, with a rescue tube in tow. Cale assisted and, together, they brought the unconscious man to shore. For 45 minutes the pair applied cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR), but their efforts were unable to resuscitate the man, who died on the beach before being airlifted to hospital.

Local police subsequently nominated Cale and Lauren for the Surf Life Saving Australia (SLSA) National Awards of Excellence. On November 4 they were each awarded the ‘SLSA Meritorious Award with Bronze Insert’ at the annual ceremony held at the Art Gallery of New South Wales.

While honoured to receive the award, Lauren says there are many similar rescues that pass without fanfare. “One club pulled in 300 [for example] and those sorts of things,” she says. “I didn’t feel worthy compared to those; but it was amazing to get support within the life saving system.”

The Black Dog Institute, in part, defines post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as “a group of stress reactions that can develop after we witness a traumatic event, such as death”.

Reflecting on the aftermath of the man’s death, Lauren says “it was pretty tough going during the first few weeks”.

“[But] realistically you have to focus on the positive: we saved a lot of lives that day – four girls, the body boarders and another girl; he was number five.

“Cale and I both decided we would go back to work the next day at the beach. Our supervisor, Greg Wylie, came down and we spent that day discussing and talking though it, and focussed on positives, which was good from a grieving point of view and moving on.”

Lauren praised the assistance available for people who need help after a traumatic event. “Through the lifeguarding system and Surf Life Saving Australia, they have counselling services that you can access at any time throughout the process … talking through any doubts you might [have],” she says.

The incident played on Lauren’s mind for a “couple of months”, however, during that time she sought, or was offered, counselling.

“A week after, a regional co-ordinator came and sat with Cale and I, talked us through it and we [discussed] how we were feeling – it was sort of a group session,” she says.

“I called up a month later [when the season had just ended] and spoke to someone qualified on the phone.

“I had personal things in my life, stresses; there was lot on my plate, I wasn’t really coping and my headspace was not in the right place.

“Talking that through gave me a clearer headspace and I moved on a little bit with life.

“I’m okay now.

“Awards like this are really important in a volunteer setting: promoting health and support when things go wrong and celebrating the good that volunteers are doing and the fact that people try and don’t give up.”

Cale was not available to speak with the Independent at the time of writing.