Seven years after her tragic death, the spirit of Sheilah Sweatman continues to have an impact on Nelson Search and Rescue.
“Sheilah had a powerful spirit. And I still ask for her advice and wonder what she would think of the changes in SAR over the years,” said Callie Chatten, the NSAR president.
Sweatman, a volunteer team leader, died June 29, 2011, while attempting to recover a submerged vehicle in the Goat River, near Creston. Her leg got caught on a steel cable and she was pulled into the water and drowned.
In November 2012, an inquest panel issued nine recommendations to prevent similar deaths, including developing universal standards for swift water rescue and recovery as well as universal standards for equipment.
“Sheilah is still very much a part of our team. Even though our newer members did not know her personally, she still inspires them with her legacy. She has become a pillar in the search and rescue community, and that community extends far beyond our Kootenay mountains that she loved,” Chatten said in a statement.
She said since the accident, NSAR has moved into a new hall dedicated to Sweatman, renovated a classroom and office and integrated other safety measures including mandatory swift water awareness training, and added RADeMS, a SAR-specific risk management tool.
Chatten added, “And thanks to grants, public donations, and short-term funding we have also made improvements to equipment and invested in training, which has expanded our capabilities. I hope she would approve.
“I miss her candor, smile and bear hugs. Sheilah’s presence is with us beyond the Hall and her monument. She is with us when we’re training or on call outs. On the river. In the mountains.”
Sweatman’s monument, a cairn-like rock sculpture created using rocks from search and rescue teams across B.C., is now being accompanied by a memorial garden. “I don’t think of (the garden) as a project with a completion date. It’s like grief, it will be an ongoing process, it will evolve and change, and we will find beauty and comfort,” said Chatten.
This weekend, the family and close friends of the woman — nicknamed Sheesh and who lived by the motto “Find your own path” — will retreat to a family cottage north of Winnipeg to reminisce.
“We reserve the last few days of June and a lot of July for family and close friends,” said Sweatman’s father, Wynn. “Our cottage is located in an area of the lake that is water access only and off the grid.”
At the time of her death, Sheilah had two pets — a German shepherd named Freya and cat named Bob Dylan. Both have been with Wynn and his wife Teddi at their Winnipeg home ever since.
“To this day, and everyday, the drive that Sheesh wanted in her dog is very evident, makes her a handful and a welcome, constant member of our family. Bob is calm and gentle all the time,” writes Wynn.