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Gold Coast's real-life hero making the big calls at Australian Open tennis

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When two swimmers got into trouble on Australia Day at Tallebudgera Beach at the Gold Coast, volunteer Surf Life Saving patrol captain Kyal Thornton could see the larger danger emerging.

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As seven family members swam out to help rescue the pair from the dangerous rip, it triggered the largest mass rescue at the beach for years.

Thornton made the call to rally all available lifesavers to the rescue, deploying the inflatable rescue boat, swimmers, and WaveRunner jetskis.

This week, Thornton will be also making vital calls of a different kind – as a line judge for the Australian Open tennis in Melbourne.

Kyal Thornton

Thornton is Queensland’s representative among eight Australian “everyday heroes” featured in the tournament’s Live Electronic Line Calling.

He is a voice of the robot Hawk-Eye Live, making the line calls through real-time remote tracking cameras around the court utilised under COVID-safe protocols to reduce the number of people on site at the Australian Open at Melbourne Park.

The Australian Open’s Behind the Line project acknowledges Australia’s community champions including front-line workers in the nation’s pandemic response, firefighters, surf life savers and other emergency services personnel. The eight heroes were chosen from every state and territory to reflect unique aspects of Australian life.

Thornton pre-recorded the terms, “out”, “fault” and ‘foot fault’ for the electronic line calling system and will be used from Tuesday’s matches throughout the tournament.

The 44-year-old Runaway Bay resident said it was a quirky, but rewarding honour.

It is also a positive shot for the Open that has been slammed with controversies and issues from the tournament lead-up to day one of matches, including a player revolt on COVID quarantine measures, Nick Kyrgios’ first-round on-court behaviour, and even Serena Williams’ startling catsuit fashion.

“I took it on out of respect for the guys and for the work they did, it was a massive, massive team effort,” Thornton said of his involvement.

“I don’t do it for the recognition. I do it because I love the beach and want to see everyone be able to go home at the end of the day,” he said.

Thornton said the day of the mass rescue was among the most difficult days he had experienced as patrol captain, with a record of 47,000 people flocking to Gold Coast beaches on the day.

“It started with two in trouble and eventually it turned into seven in trouble as they went in to save each other,” Thornton said.“We had five in the IRB, in the boat and hanging on to the sides of it. Then the WaveRunner rocked up and had another two or three on the back. It ended up about nine people in all, but seven from the one group.”

Two of the swimmers had taken on water. One required CPR and was transferred to Gold Coast University Hospital in a critical condition. He made a full recovery.

“At the same time, we had other rescues we needed to do,” Thornton said.

“We were very lucky we ended up with everybody able to go home that day.”

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