We chat to a few of the NSRI’s inspiring women to find out more about their journeys.
Tania Fouché - Station Commander, Strandfontein, Matsikamma (Station 45)
“My journey to joining the NSRI was inspired by Clive Cerff, Strandfontein’s most active and beloved lifeguard. On 15 December 2019, at the height of the busiest time on our beaches, Clive drowned tragically during one of his many sea swims.
“I’d been in Strandfontein for 12 years, and after Clive passed away, my heart went out to the lifeguards and I stepped forward to say we must carry on with Clive’s work and keep his legacy alive. The NSRI helped us and it just went from there. There’s a group of us here, friends of Clive, who’ve always been swimmers. I also had a passion for the rescue work they were doing.
“We got together with the NSRI to form a station, and the crew chose me as their station commander. It’s a small town, we’re like family, and it just felt like a natural fit. There are four females in our team of 15. Male, female, it really doesn’t matter to us. We all use the JetRIB, we all do the same training.
“I’m 54 now, and in my life I’ve done many things. Hiking, biking, kayaking, swimming – lots of outdoor activities. I’m so grateful for what I’ve experienced, it’s become important to me to give back. I love being near the water; I’ve learnt so much from the sea, from nature, to the point where I realised I can make a difference in people’s lives. And the NSRI opened that door for me.”
Sara Smith - Station Commander, St Francis (Station 21)
“My experience over the last five-and-half years has been great. There were some challenges in the beginning but I am super-fortunate to belong to the base. We are one big family and I feel very lucky to have a support system of past station commanders and strong leaders who I can rely on for support and guidance.
“I really enjoy encouraging and teaching, and sharing the knowledge that I was exposed to through my training years.
“I think different people join their bases for varying reasons, but the passion and enthusiasm this organisation has at its core is infectious, and that drives the individual passions to serve communities and assist people. So often people will say it’s in your blood, but in reality it’s really the sheer force of passion through a nation of volunteers that motivates the service from trainee to station commander and above.”
Nicky Whitehead - Deputy Station Commander, Strandfontein, Cape Town (Station 16)
“Being a female crew member at the NSRI has been a journey of growth. I’ve often had to push myself beyond my comfort zone. The requirements for being a crew member are exactly the same for men and women: from fitness to training, everyone needs to be able to do the same thing as quickly and efficiently as possible, and I never felt that I needed to work harder than any of the men to get to where I am.
“The biggest challenge I had so far was moving from a ‘harbour’ station to a ‘surf’ station. The dynamics are very different and it almost felt like I had to start over and re-learn everything from scratch. My new crew adopted me instantly, though, and with all their support, my new station became a refuge.
“I am so proud of my crew. When the pressure is on, they execute rescues swiftly and effectively and, ultimately, that is why we do what we do.
“The NSRI is extremely welcoming of female volunteers stepping into positions of authority. I have received nothing but support; women are always encouraged to step up and fill these positions.
“Being a volunteer with the NSRI has to be a passion. It takes hard work, dedication and sacrifice, and all of us are here because we want to be. It is what we do. We want to make a difference, and we want to give back to the community. Saving lives, changing lives, creating futures.”
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