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When Nguyen Trang Cang completed his Bronze Medallion in September last year, it was the culmination of a near 50-year journey that began and ended with the ocean.

The Vietnamese refugee has been living comfortably and happily with his family on the state’s Central Coast for a number of years, but his story is far deeper than what appears on the bubbly, friendly surface.

In 1977, Cang made the brave decision to leave his family and all that is familiar behind when, at just 23, he rowed from Vietnam to Thailand before boarding a boat bound for the shores of Australia.

After settling, marrying and building a family, Cang reached the next stage of his life in Toowoon Bay, where a very important chapter continues to be written.

“We have a group called the Buttercups who swim of a morning up and down the Bay,” Toowoon Bay SLSC President, Phillip Raymont said.

“Cang had come down and he’d been hanging out with us for a while, but he couldn’t swim and he wouldn’t go in the water.

“We gave him some lessons and we got him swimming out with us, in lockdown we got him swimming more and more.

“Eventually he was swimming across the bay, then across and back, now he’s doing 2, 3 and 4km swims with us.”

This ballooned further and the enthusiastic group, many volunteer lifesavers with the local club, encouraged Cang to continue to build his skills by completing his Bronze Medallion.

In the time since, he has become an asset to the Toowoon Bay SLSC, and can call upon its membership as part of his second family.

It’s testament to his positive attitude that, in retirement, Cang can develop his skills and bring value to the community in so many new ways.

“I think it’s his enthusiasm and zest for life that makes him a lovely guy to be around,” Phillip continued.

“He’s always smiling and happy, there’s no negativity with the guy. He’s so willing to have a go and wants to be part of our community.

“We are always conscious of his presence not just because of his laughter but also because he asks questions and seems to want to absorb so much,” fellow club member, Denis Hannigan said.

If the mark of a man is the company he keeps, Cang is held in high esteem by not only the Toowoon Bay local community, but it’s wildlife as well.

Ultimately, though, it’s the way he carries himself that endears him to whomever he meets.

“He’s a real photographer of birds and wildlife – he’s very good,” Phillip said.

“He’s just one of those guys, he’s come over here and been lucky to get out of a bad situation, and he tells his story and he’s laughing – we can’t appreciate how hard it would’ve been but he’s so happy with his life now.

“He’s got a second family down here. The support the club shows is unbelievable.”

Friday 1 April 2022