Rising cycling star is a Nicobar tsunami survivor
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Even before the junior time trial event began, all eyes were on the girl in the red T-shirt. Representing Andaman and Nicobar, Deborah was seen as someone to look out for.
At the IG Stadium velodrome on Tuesday, the 17-year-old completed her event in 39.662 seconds, setting a junior record, and finishing nearly a second ahead of the girl in the second spot. It was her second gold of the ongoing Junior National Cycling Championships, apart from a silver she won in the senior category of the same tournament.
With two more races, one junior and senior each, slotted for Wednesday, her tally may well increase.
For the last seven years, late December has not brought Deborah or anyone in her village Kakana happy memories. On December 26, 2004, the Indian Ocean tsunami brought killer waves nearly 30 m high to her island of Car Nicobar.
Deborah herself remembers the day only vaguely. "It was early in the morning when the waves hit our village. I was sleeping when my father rushed us out of our home. I was very young and fainted, but my father picked me and my brother up and we hid in the forests. We stayed there for a few days and then eventually returned. But everything had turned to rubble," she says.
Despite the devastation, the family eventually got their lives back on track. A farmer before his fields went under water, her father Harold soon found a job in the canteen of the local Air Force station. With her own school turned to rubble, Deborah had to cycle to a school in Mus village.
The daily grind helped; when sports talent scouts came looking for promising cyclists, the Class IX girl was among those chosen.
"We were told to race from our school in Mus village to the police station and then back. Of course we didn't have racing cycles so I used my father's old cycle," she recalls.