My Secret Life(saving): York U sport manager officiates heroic competitions around the world

My Secret Life FEATURED

For most families, swimming lessons end once a child can make it across the pool and back.

Rebecca Boyd, York University’s manager of Intermural Sport (IMS), Sport Clubs, Aquatics and First Aid, encourages families to look at lessons as more than something to endure, citing opportunities ranging from career lifeguarding to international lifesaving competitions.

Rebecca Boyd
Rebecca Boyd at the Lifesaving World Championships in Adelaide, Australia

“There’s so much more,” she explained. “Your child could save somebody, they could have a job for life – because we always need lifeguards – and they could go on to compete for their country.”

Boyd speaks from experience, having seen and experienced all of this as an international lifesaving sport referee.

Recognized by the Commonwealth Games, World Games and the International Olympic Committee, and on the shortlist for inclusion in the Olympic Games, lifesaving sport sees competitors rigorously tested on their lifesaving abilities in often complex and exhausting events held at beach, ocean and pool venues.

Boyd appreciates the diverse array of physical activities involved in lifesaving – ranging from endurance tests such as sprinting and swimming to “craft,” such as skis and boards – noting that some events combine them all. She most enjoys the events that are closest in nature to real lifeguarding, such as simulated emergency response competitions on the beach, rescue tube races in the ocean, and “Super Lifesaver,” an event that combines pieces of other events, in the pool.

“I think the phrase ‘as heroic as sport can be’ sums up my passion in a sentence,” Boyd said. She explained how lifesaving is the only sport founded in humanitarian principles, where participants are lifesavers first and athletes second and where life matters more than winning a medal.

Rebecca Boyd and a safety officer at the Lifesaving World Championships in Noordwijk, the Netherlands
Rebecca Boyd and a safety officer at the Lifesaving World Championships in Noordwijk, the Netherlands

Lifesaving World Championships, hosted by the International Life Saving Federation every two years, typically see up to 5,000 athletes and officials come together. Boyd has been a deputy referee in all of the competition’s venues. After officiating for more than two decades provincially, nationally and internationally, Boyd has been appointed as the only female chief referee for the rescheduled World Championships in 2022.

Boyd has been a referee at the sport’s international level since 2014 and has participated in hundreds of events in Ontario, across Canada and around the world. She has been involved in competitive lifesaving since well before Canada joined the sport’s international stage. Like many, Boyd traces her connection back to lifeguarding. A fellow lifeguard in her community sold Boyd on the experience.

Boyd said that in her first competition, she realized quickly that she was put off by the stress and anticipation of waiting for her turn. “I love the sport but I’m much better at organizing and managing people, activities and events, and letting other people, the athletes, take the limelight,” Boyd said.

Thus, officiating seemed like a natural fit.

Since she first became involved, Canada’s presence within the sport’s community has gown, and both athletes and competitors have the opportunity to participate in competitions ranging from local and regional meets to national and world championships.

After decades of experience officiating at the competition’s highest levels, in some ways Boyd has only just dipped her toe in to lifesaving sport. Looking beyond the World Championships, Boyd hopes to a referee at the Olympics.

Rebecca Boyd and Stephanie Andrews at the Lifesaving World Championships in Adelaide, Australia
Rebecca Boyd and Stephanie Andrews at the Lifesaving World Championships in Adelaide, Australia

Referees volunteer and their travel is completely self-funded. While many athletes are able to finance their involvement through GoFundMe and other initiatives, Boyd says officials are a tougher sell. Like many of her colleagues, Boyd uses her vacation time to participate, often bringing her family and calling it a holiday. “You have to be completely dedicated, or foolish,” Boyd joked.

Boyd’s son and daughter have both competed at various levels, and her son will be joining her as an official at the next World Championships. She describes how, in addition to the sport becoming a family affair, she has developed a sense of family with other people involved with the sport.

The connections Boyd has made through lifesaving sport have been valuable and meaningful both personally and professionally. Her son is making plans to travel and stay with families in 15 countries they have met through the competitions. Boyd is on a first name basis with the people involved with the World Conference on Drowning Prevention.

“My connections, locally to internationally, have really enhanced my ability to do my job,” Boyd said. “I’m at the cutting edge of learning. I’m able to inspire the students to compete and learn more.”

Beyond her job title, Boyd sees her role at York as one focused on student leadership development and using physical activity to achieve lifetime of Wellness. “My hope is that I inspire and help develop the leaders in those (IMS) programs to make activities so exciting that the participants want to keep it up for life.”

Do you have a “secret life” or know someone else at York who does? Drop us a line at with a brief summary of what makes you shine, or nominate someone you know at York. Use the subject line “My Secret Life.”