On this day ten years ago, it all came catastrophically crashing down for supermodel Petra Nemcova and her photographer fiance Simon Atlee.
Per an inspiring piece by Philip Sherwell, New York-based Americas correspondent for The Daily Telegraph, Nemcova on December 26, 2004 had just caught a glimpse at her Thailand resort of the family whose story would be made into the 2012 film The Impossible, when the tsunami hit. Across the span of a few terrifying seconds, she would see Atlee for the final time, cling desperately to the roof of her resort bungalow and meet, or so she thought, her maker:
The sea swept back out and then rushed ashore in a second colossal wave, dragging Nemcova underwater again. “This time, I couldn’t get back above the surface to breathe, there was so much debris above me. I started swallowing this toxic water and I thought, ‘This is it.’
“I thought, well if I’m meant to go, so be it and I made my peace with what was happening. At that moment, I felt very light, it felt like all the particles of my body were merging into the water. It was a really extraordinary sensation.”
“And then, as soon as I let go and accepted my fate, I was back above the water and could breathe again. I will never know how that happened.”
Nemcova clung to a palm tree for eight hours, survived and, the following year, founded a non-profit called Happy Hearts Fund. She sat down with Sherwell in New York in between opening a new school in Peru funded by her charity and heading to Thailand for a special tenth-anniversary candle lighting ceremony.
Nemcova told Sherwell that her goal when she started Happy Hearts was to have rebuilt and opened, by December 26, 2014, 100 schools in disaster-affected areas. The total in fact stands at 107. Read the rest of the article here.
[Pictured: Nemcova on the cover of Sports Illustrated’s 50th Anniversary Swimsuit Edition / 2003.]