Hawke's Bay hero Kate O'Malley, who rescued four young souls from a rip while on holiday in 2014, now has a greater respect for the sea and how badly things can go wrong.

The Westshore lifeguard was in Whakatane on December 28, 2014, around 6pm when a woman ran into the campground screaming for help as four teenagers were being swept out to sea.

Ms O'Malley ran to the unpatrolled beach and entered the rip without any lifesaving equipment, just the clothes on her back.

"I was lucky I was wearing my togs underneath," she said.

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"I hadn't had the chance to check the water yet so I was heading into the unknown."

She said due to the strength of the rip she feared for her own life but was able to put that aside to save the teens in trouble.

"I had never been in that situation before."

"It took me two trips to get both groups," she said.

The 26-year-old found four people spread out in the waves and towed the two most-unwell swimmers back to the beach.

Fatigue was beginning to set in but O'Malley used the skills she had learnt from surf life saving to suppress the pain.

The Hukarere College PE teacher re-entered the rip to rescue the other two teens.

For her bravery, Ms O'Malley was named the national winner for Rescue of the Month for December 2014 and she was also nominated for the National Rescue Award.

Fellow school teachers hailed O'Malley's bravery.

"The girls were all very proud of me."

Ms O'Malley said she is loving her job as she gets to "develop and improve fitness" in children.

A year on from her rescue, she said she wouldn't change a single action she took that day.

"I definitely feel better prepared should I ever be in a similar situation."

She has been involved in surf life saving for the past decade.

That day remains vivid in Ms O'Malley's memory.

She said the group were extremely grateful for what she did.

"Once the dust had settled and I had the chance to reflect, it was a pretty satisfying feeling."

"It has stayed with me - I found myself asking, 'What if? What if it had been worse?'"

The talented sportswoman is fresh from a third placing at the IronMaori 1/4 Ironman.

She was first in her age group but, like a typical competitor, was unsatisfied with her time.

"I was wanting to win it."