The New Zealand Herald
February 18, 2000

Tumor Puts Mission On Hold
Vanessa Bidois

HUNTLY - A towering Waikato teenager has been forced to put a promising American basketball career on hold while doctors deal with the reappearance of a tumour in his brain.

But the delay has had a positive spinoff for John Thocolich, who stands 2.24m (7ft 4in) and wears size 23 footwear.

His phenomenal height has won him an extra's role in the mega-budget movie Lord of the Rings, and he will use the cash to go on a two-year mission for his Mormon church.

Thocolich has already had a series of operations to remove the tumour, which affects the pituitary gland that produces the growth hormone.

The 18-year-old centre has spent the past four months on a basketball scholarship at Salt Lake Community College in Utah, and flew home last month to spend Christmas with his family.

A check-up revealed the recurrence of the tumour.

"He's now had to suspend his basketball," his doctor, David Gilgen, said.

"But the upside is that after he's had surgery and recuperated, he'll now act in the movie, make money and go on a mission."

Thocolich, who has a slight American accent from his US experience, was baptised a Mormon when he was 15 and will be the first in his family to follow the missionary call.

"You learn heaps of knowledge, you become more mature and the experiences I will have on a mission will help me in my basketball career," he said.

Doctors plan to operate on Thocolich soon but the modest young man is upbeat about his new direction and plans to pick up his sports scholarship at a later date.

"I've got plenty of time for girlfriends."