Facing up to the sea
By CHRISTIAN STANGER
TODAY she is patrolling the pristine beaches of Kingscliff, but a year ago today Jongdee Hemkeaw was in Thailand in battling for her life after being dragged out to sea by receding waters of the Boxing Day tsunami.
Jongdee, 25, was working as a professional lifesaver for the Le Meridien Hotel on the beaches of Khao Lak just north of Phuket when the 10-metre wall of water hit, destroying the hotel along with the lives of thousands of people before sucking Jongdee out to sea as it receded.
Jongdee, nicknamed "Pla" which is Thai for "the fish", is the first Thai women to be trained in lifesaving to Australian gold medal standards and had to use all her strength during her three-hour swim back to shore.
Thailand's devastated coastline is still fresh in Jongdee's mind as she patrols the beach at Kingscliff where she is on a fledgling lifesaver exchange program with Cudgen Headland Surf Life Saving Club.
"I am here 22 days and got here on Friday," Jongdee said yesterday.
"It's really nice here. I came here to train for skills with lifeguards.".
"It's very beautiful, but the water is very cold. In Thailand, the water is warm."
Jongdee was trained in Thailand by Cudgen SLSC deputy president David Field, who considers the young woman an exceptional athlete and a talented lifesaver.
"I go to Thailand every year to train, and Pla is the first female in Thailand to be qualified to the Australian Life Guard gold medal standard," Mr Field said.
"So she's very special. She's a survivor and a real role model for other women in Thailand."