Unforgettable experience in Italy for Claresholm swimmer

By Kelsey Hipkin – Local Press Writer
Lydianna O’Neil had such an amazing experience at the Lifesaving World Championships 2022 in Riccione, Italy, she wasn’t sure she wanted to return home to Canada.
“It was so amazing, I learned so much,” she said. “Meeting everyone from around the world is something I’m never going to forget.”
The 17-year-old’s journey to Riccione began with the Lifesaving Sport Nationals in Fort McMurray June 3-5, but her journey as a swimmer began well before, at the age of five.
“Honestly, I’ve been swimming for almost 12 years now and there are so many things that draw me to the sport,” she said. “One, it keeps me in shape. Two, swimming has become my safe place. And three, it keeps me motivated in and out of the water, and what keeps me drawn to lifesaving is the fact that I know if something were to happen at any type of ocean, lake, pool etc. I could save someone’s life if I needed to….It constantly reminds me that there is room to improve and to always be the absolute best because someone’s life is in your hands.”
O’Neil is a lifeguard at the Claresholm Aquatic Centre, former Junior Lifesaving Club member with the aquatic centre, trains long course in Lethbridge, and started swimming with the Claresholm Kraken Swim Club when she was six. She will be coaching the Vikings Competitive Junior Lifesaving Club team in Claresholm when her schedule allows.
According to the Lifesaving Society, Lifesaving Sport is the most demanding, multi-disciplinary sport in the world, combining athletic ability with lifesaving skills and rescue equipment. Lifesaving Sport is unique because it is the only sport in which skills are learned for humanitarian purposes and then applied to competition.
Twenty-three Canadian swimmers participated in the championships in Riccione. O’Neil competed in youth categories, while Meadow Liversuch, also a lifeguard at the Claresholm Aquatic Centre, participated with the open team.
O’Neil participated in events ranging from Women’s Beach Spring, Women’s Beach Relay, 100-metre mannequin tow with fins, 200-metre super lifesaver and 100-metre mannequin carry with fins.
“I’ve never done ocean competition before, but I did at worlds. So, in that aspect it was completely different,” she said. “It was also a great learning curve and let me tell you, swimming in the ocean is 10 times harder,” she said. “Competing against Olympians, making three finals (and) getting a couple personal bests were the main highlights of the competition.”
While the purpose of the trip was the championships, O’Neil and her teammates were able to explore some of their surroundings as well.
“It was mainly all business but there were days we would walk around Riccione … and go shopping and just see everything around,” she said. “While we were still training, before the competition, we took a rest day and went to San Marino, which has the prettiest view I have ever seen, and some really cool castles. Other than that, we were virtually training three times a day every day and then when competition started, we were either at the beach, pool or the hotel taking it easy as we were all exhausted and resting up for the big competition.”
For O’Neil, she said it was the people she met and traveled with that is something she will cherish forever.
“We became a second family.”