Inspirational ladies go from strength to strength to achieve Bronze Cross

21 November 2021
There’s no slowing down in sight for a group of incredible women who recently achieved the Bronze Cross lifesaving award. The women – aged 55, 60, 68 and 74 – along with Royal Life Saving WA Community Trainer Isabel (Issy) Franzoni, made the extraordinary effort to train for and successfully complete the challenging award.

Trainer Sallie Watson with Bronze Cross participantsSharon Packer, Marilyn ‘Maz’ Ramsay, Annette Jones and Jan Craven, who regularly attend aqua aerobics classes at HBF Arena where Issy also works as an instructor, were part of the first group to complete the Aqua Skills 55+ program (formerly known as the Grey Medallion) with Issy back in 2018. The ladies then went on to complete their Bronze Medallion in 2019 at Issy’s encouragement. After renewing their Bronze Medallion with Issy in 2020 and again this year, it was suggested that they could progress to the Bronze Cross.

The Bronze Cross is the final stage of the Bronze Rescue strand of lifesaving awards and includes a timed 600 metres of continuous swimming. The four women, plus Issy herself, underwent their assessment at HBF Arena in Joondalup on Saturday 13th November, under the experienced eye of Royal Life Saving WA Trainer Sallie Watson.

Issy decided to take on the challenge alongside her proteges, guiding them every step of the way. “I completed the Bronze Cross many years ago with Royal Life Saving, but this one is the most treasured of all,” she says.

“I feel I learnt so much more as an instructor through the eyes of these incredible ladies than I ever could as a participant.”

Over 55s women completing Bronze Cross awardDespite their initial doubts, the ladies credit Issy for her ‘can-do’ attitude in training them up to the appropriate level. In a letter to Royal Life Saving WA afterwards, Sharon said, “None of this would have been remotely possible without our beloved Issy. Such was the motivation and encouragement from Issy that we came and trained at 7am before class as many days as we could. Most of all, she made it fun.”

Issy, in turn, credits the women for their courage and determination to succeed. “The ladies were incredible,” she says. “They came in as often as they could, some came every day of the week. They knew they had to build their stamina and strength to reach the goal of timed swim (17 minutes 600m) and timed tow (100m 3 minutes). On my days off I came in with them and we did the spinal training (vice grips and extended arm roll overs included in the extractions from the water). We also learnt to do search patterns and survival rescues with PFDs and rescue tubes, rescue and resuscitation at water’s edge, and different tows.”

Issy has huge respect and admiration for her “amazing group” of ladies. “They showed such determination and grit to learn the safety aspects of life around water. They learnt that even though they are older generation they can still do things younger people struggle with. I must be the proudest Mother Hen around.”

Bronze Cross participants with Issy Franzoni at HBF ArenaThroughout their training the women each had to deal with medical issues or physical setbacks. “One lady spent a year in bed paralysed," said Issy. "She learnt to walk again with the help of her loving mother and brother. She may walk with a limp or wobble, but she will never give up on anything she tries. Another lady has arthritis and struggles to hold anything in her hands but attempt after attempt she bruised her hands trying to clip the rescue tube and forced herself to build a stronger swim stroke to be able to do the rescues in time. A third has recently had knee surgery on both knees and is the most inspiring and leading member of this group. It hurts her to bend down and to be on her knees, but she does it nonetheless. She’s not letting a little knee issue slow her down.”

“And finally, the strongest of them all – boy, she gave me a run for my swim times,” laughs Issy. “How could I let an older participant beat me, no way! She is confident and strong, and she pushed us all to be the best version of ourselves. She set the mark for us all. She inspired us to go faster than we could, and all whilst being away from family (a newborn little first grandchild). Mentally struggling so far from what she loves most (as they live over east) she showed everyone that being together as a group helps to hold you together and to find new strength in each other.”

After successfully completing the course, “the ladies were on a complete high,” says Issy. “Nothing was going to bring them down off their cloud at the end of assessment day. They even said they couldn’t sleep that night because they were going over everything in their heads and how excited they were that they had accomplished it. The lifeguards at HBF Arena were in awe of their efforts and were so proud of them!”

“Learning something like this not only benefits your safety around water but shows you that when you do things outside your comfort zone, you achieve more than a medal, but a memory of a lifetime.”

Issy now hopes to get all 50 of her Aqua Aerobics participants to do the Aqua Skills 55+ course, and for some to go further and get their Bronze Star or Medallion. “They are so inspired by these ladies that they are willing to try it too. Watch this space early next year!”

See the full criteria of what these extraordinary women were able to achieve during their Bronze Cross assessment here. And learn more about the Aqua Skills 55+ program and find a course near you at the link below. Who knows, you could even progress to the Bronze Cross too!
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