GSAC lifeguard Gabriel Thiongkol has been accepted into the Australian College of Basketball in Melbourne.
Gabriel Thiongkol is tall; very tall. At over two metres, his height is an advantage in his chosen sport (and passion) of basketball.
But it hasn't just been his height that has helped him win a place at the Australian College of Basketball in Melbourne - it's Gabriel's sheer determination. And it hasn't been easy.
At the age of six Gabriel escaped war in Sudan with his family. He lived in a Kenyan refugee camp for 11 years, and lost both his mother and his father.
At 17 he came to Lismore with his siblings, finished school at Lismore High and got a job as a lifeguard at the Goonellabah Sports and Aquatic Centre (GSAC) to support his family. All the time, he never lost sight of his dream to play professional basketball.
"I started playing when I was about eight," Gabriel said. "Basketball is a great game. I feel free when I play."
Gabriel leaves next week for the Australian College of Basketball where he will spend two years studying a Diploma of Sport Development. He will also train five days a week with basketball greats such as Phil Smyth and Andrew Gaze.
Gabriel has played several tournaments with the South Sudanese Association in Sydney and the College was impressed by Gabriel's talent. His position at the College includes travel to competitions in Asia and the USA where talent scouts will be on the lookout for new players. You never know...
"I'm really, really happy and I can't wait to follow my skill and follow my dream and train hard to make it to the next level - to play NBL," Gabriel said. "It's just magical, an opportunity like this. This is what I've wanted, what I've been missing, what I've been looking for, and I thank God I found it. It is really beautiful."
Gabriel has been working at GSAC since 2009. He credits Lismore City Council staff Annie McWilliam and Lizette Twisleton (who nominated him for a Kids in Community Award some years ago) for his job as a lifeguard at the centre.
He expressed gratitude to his GSAC colleagues for their support.
"They are really good people and I will miss them," he said.