Teen lifeguard receives medal for saving a life

Braeden McSweeney, 17, was on his way to Henry Moses Aquatic Center last August when he came across a cyclist in need of medical attention.

For most high schoolers, it’s not every day that your boss and coach tells the whole city about your “integrity, valor and sense of community” just before you receive a medal from the chief of police and have your photo taken with the mayor and city council — unless of course, you’re Braeden McSweeney.

It was Aug. 3, 2023, and Renton lifeguard Sweeney, 17, was on his way to the Henry Moses Aquatic Center when he arrived at the scene of a recent collision on Houser Way.

“I saw a car that the front was totaled and then I saw a bunch of smoke, and then I saw two people, then I saw someone on the ground. And that was it,” McSweeney said.

There had been a collision between a driver and a cyclist, a woman whom McSweeney says was having a seizure on the ground when he arrived. Trained in what’s known as BLS, or Basic Life Support, in the case of an emergency, McSweeney did not hesitate to help the cyclist.

“There was something coming from her mouth, and so I leaned her on her side to drain the liquid from her mouth, and then I laid her on her back, to try to open her airways,” said McSweeney, who had two nearby witnesses to the collision call 911 before he left the scene to get help from Henry Moses Aquatic Center.

Returning with fellow lifeguards Cassie and Alex and an oxygen tank, they administered oxygen to the woman until paramedics — the people trained in Advanced Life Support — arrived.

“CPR, AED, lifeguards operate with that to try to help someone until someone more qualified arrives,” said Jake Davies, City of Renton’s Outdoors and Aquatics Coordinator and Sweeney’s water polo coach. “It’s more important than being the action hero. When to call someone more qualified, it could be the difference between life and death, and Braeden did that.”

A student at Kentridge High School and a Running Start student at Green River College, McSweeney has been a lifeguard now for two years. While he’s given CPR before while lifeguarding, McSweeney said this was the first time he had used his BLS skills to such an extreme degree.

“When I first saw it, I freaked out a little bit. And I froze up for probably, like 10 seconds,” said McSweeney, adding that the woman’s femur bone had a compound fracture and that there was a lot of blood. “That’s what freaked me out at first, but I got over that and then I did what I could.”

The woman recovered from the collision. McSweeney continued on with his summer lifeguarding jobs, and attending his senior classes at Kentridge and Green River in the fall.

A few months later, McSweeney and his family were invited to the first Renton City Council meeting of December, where Police Chief Jon Schuldt presented McSweeney with the Renton Police Department Life Saving Medal.

“We couldn’t be prouder of his actions and are so grateful for the recognition he received from the city,” said his mother, Dee McSweeney. “I will say Braeden has been very humble. While we want to brag about him, he doesn’t really talk about it. He says it was just the right thing to do.”

After he receives his high school diploma and his associate of arts degree in automotive technology, McSweeney plans on becoming a welder and an electrician, though he said he will still volunteer and do what he can to help others.

“I like to help people and with lifeguarding, I get to help people. And it’s also like, I get to be in the water,” he said.