Son's drowning stirs mum to action at Patea

By Jordan Bond

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DETERMINED: Robina Wichman is fundraising to get lifeguards on patrol at Patea.
DETERMINED: Robina Wichman is fundraising to get lifeguards on patrol at Patea.

Robina Wichman has a dream that no one else drowns at Patea Beach.

After losing her son Kris, 36, at the beach in January last year, Mrs Wichman set out on a campaign - and she won't stop for anything.

"My dream is to have established lifeguards down at Patea Beach every year, even when I'm gone," she told the Wanganui Chronicle.

"That's my dream. And it's going to happen ... it will happen.

"I don't want to see another parent or family go through what I did."

Previous efforts and appeals to the South Taranaki District Council for lifeguards have come up short, but Mrs Wichman's drive - as well as strong group of volunteers - is making the dream look like a reality.

A call for trainee lifeguards in Patea brought together 18 teenagers from Patea Area School. The volunteers - many of whom have been training this winter without wetsuits because of the cost - have travelled to Opunake once a week as well as training in Patea since November last year.

Mrs Wichman, 57, said their commitment has been astonishing - that they're the ones making her dream come true.

"You run out of words to say thank you, but I'm so, so appreciative that they're training to be lifeguards."

It will take two years for the lifeguards to become qualified. In the meantime, Mrs Wichman hopes to raise $10,000 to pay for two qualified lifeguards from Opunake Surf Lifesaving Club for two months this summer. The trainee lifeguards will observe, and will hopefully be certified by next summer.

She's supported by dozens of people who give up their time to help out, not least the lifeguards-in-training, who have already spent hundreds of hours in the water.

Although it's a lot of work, the process - and progress - is cathartic for her.

"My grieving is done by making sure we get water safety ... by making sure another parent or family doesn't have to go through what I went through. That no one else has to feel that.

"Each time I get something done with the lifeguards, there's just a little bit more healing for me."

Mrs Wichman said her memory of Kris was still strong.

"My son loved the sea so much. The irony was that it was the sea that took him - the very thing he loved."

She said another drowning of a young man earlier this year renewed her commitment to keep pushing for her goal, no matter how difficult it was.

"I saw a family absolutely devastated. You know what I said to the other parent? You got your son's body back; I got my son's body back - think about the ones that didn't. There was one up in New Plymouth, and that mother can't hold her baby, or even say goodbye, because they couldn't find his body.

"I'm happy because I've got my son where he is. He's buried at the marae [where Mrs Wichman lives]. I kept him here. Every morning I wake up and say, 'good morning son', and every night I say, 'goodnight my baby'. It's a good feeling that I can see him there.

"At the end of it, there's some good come out of it - we've got 18 kids that are going to be our lifeguards.

"Is it a commemoration to Kris? Yeah ... but it's a commemoration to all mothers, even those that didn't get their babies back."

¦More information can be found on the Facebook page - www.facebook.com/pateasurflifesavinginc/

- Wanganui Chronicle

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