“A very good way to help the world”: Student reflects on saving a life during engineering trip to Peru

View froma hillside looking down on a stretch of beach with human figures walking together in the foreground.
A view of the beach near Lobito, Peru, where McVaney’s encounter with the family in the rip tide occurred

On that last day of the trip to Peru, Rose McVaney, a first-year environmental engineering student, stood a ways down the beach from her classmates. She could hear some splashing and excitement, but didn’t really think much about it. Then she heard a woman scream and saw a rip tide was quickly carrying a man, woman and young girl out to sea. The man was desperately trying to carry the other two on his back, swimming furiously toward the shore.

Maybe three seconds passed. McVaney dove into the water.

She can’t tell you much about the swim, how far she went, or how long it took. She remembers grabbing the 6-year-old girl and heading back toward shore, and the sheer exhaustion from her recovery time on the beach.

Just the day before, she had watched a video about swimming sideways to escape a rip tide.

McVaney downplays her heroic actions, saying her Christian faith played a role.

“As I reflect on this, I was exactly the person with the capability on that day,” she said. “I believe the Lord had me be there to save this little girl. I was the only one who saw it happening. I was the only one to get in the water who also spoke Spanish. Being there, able to help in that moment, I had that skill set ready and that was really crazy.”

She was grateful for the support of her classmates after the incident and the trip.

“It cemented my belief that this is a very good way to help the world by tackling one problem at a time, using what you know and working with local people,” she said. “It really helps make the big campus feel a little smaller, especially the engineering school.”