Tsunami survivor Deborah Herold has not seen her parents for the last four years and the top Indian cyclist is not planning to do it either for the next couple of years as she wants to focus on her Olympics dream.
Deborah, who turns 22 on February 18, left home for Delhi in January 2013 when she was just 17 and since then she is based at the Indian Gandhi Indoor Stadium. That was eight years after she survived a devastating tsunami that hit her native place at Andaman and Nicobar Islands in December 2004.
She survived the tsunami by remaining atop a tree for five days eating leaves and tea bark before rejoining her parents who got separated with her initially by the huge waves of water.
“I came here in Delhi in January 2013 and since then I have not gone home. I have not met my parents for the last four years. I only speak to them on phone,” she says.
“I don’t want to meet them now maybe for the next two-three years because I want to qualify for 2020 Olympics. That is my dream and aim in life. If I win a medal that will be even better but first I have to qualify for it (Olympics). Nobody from Andaman and Nicobar has been to Olympics and I want to do that,” she told PTI in an interview.
Deborah arrived at the national cycling scene when she won her first track gold at the 2012 Nationals before winning five gold medals in the junior category in the 2013 Track Asian Championship held here.
She rose to limelight when she won four gold medals (one each in 500m time trial, sprint individual and team sprint and keirin) in the women’s elite section at the 2014 Track Cycling Asia Cup in Delhi before another haul of three gold medals (one each in 500m time trial and individual sprint and team sprint) and a silver (in keirin) in the next edition of the same tournament in 2015 here. She then won five medals (one gold, one silver and three bronze in Taiwan Cup Track International Classic event in 2015.
She rose to world number four in December 2015 in the UCI (International Cycling Union) rankings for individual 500m time trial event, the highest ever by any Indian cyclist before achieving the feat of being the first Indian cyclist to qualify for the UCI World Track Championships in London last year.
Deborah will lead the challenge of a 35-member Indian team at the 37th Asian Track Cycling Championship which begins tomorrow at the IGI Stadium velodrome here.
Hailing from a tiny village Kakana, located 200 km away from the Car island of India’s most distant Southern Union Territory, Andaman and Nicobar, Deborah had a bent of mind towards sports from a young age and while at school she was more interested in jumps than cycling. She was first at SAI Center at Port Blair before being shifted to Delhi.
Chasing her dream, she is not much bothered about her further studies. She has passed her 10th standard and she is currently pursuing further studies through Open School. Her father works at the Indian Air Force Base at the Andaman and Nicobar and her mother is a housewife.
“I have passed 10th standard and I am now enrolled in open school system for further studies. I cannot continue my formal studies in Andaman or here because of training schedule,” she said.
“I am now an ASI at Andaman Police so it does not make much a difference if I continue formal study or do study through open school. This (open school) is convenient for me to continue training also. My parents also have no objection. So, I will continue training and enroll in an open school. The police department at Andamans also has no objection, they said I can continue training in Delhi as long as I want,” she said nonchalantly.
Asked if the trauma experienced during the devastating tsunami come to her mind often, she said, “Yes, it comes to my mind sometimes but that gives me more resolve and determination that I can scale greater heights and bring laurels for the country. I tell myself I have faced the worst of situations in life and so I can face anything and work hard to the limit.”
To qualify for the Olympics is not going to be an easy job but Deborah is confident that she can do it through hard work.
“It is not going to be easy to make it to Tokyo Olympics. But I feel I can do it and I will do my best. Before 2020 Olympics, I want to finish at the podium at the World Championships and that will give a boost for my bid for the Olympics,” she said.
Deborah said the facilities at the IGI here (which is also a prestigious satellite training centre of the UCI) and the support from the Cycling Federation of India and coach R K Sharma would help her in her quest for Olympic dream.
Qualification for the Olympics is based on world ranking points which is accumulated through the last two World Championships before the Games, four or five World Cup series in the last two years and continental championships. Deborah will have to be in the top 10 rankings before the Olympics to qualify for it.
“I was ranked fourth in the world in 2015 in 500m time trial event. I have slipped a bit since then and I’m currently ranked 11th. But I hope to pick up points from this Asian Track Championships and from the two World Cup I am taking part after this event,” she said.
Deborah will take part in the World Cup series events in Colombia and USA and hopes to take part in the World Championships in April in Hong Kong.
Talking about the Asian Track Championships beginning tomorrow where she will take part in four events — 500m time trial, individual sprint and team sprint and keirin — she said she would look to better her personal bests and win as many medals as possible.
“I am taking part in all my four events and I am looking forward to give my best and better my personal bests. Competition will come mainly from Chinese and Korean cyclists but I’m prepared. This championship is a ranking point event and I want to collect as many medals as possible and as many points as possible. I have two World Cup events after this and then hopefully the World Championships in April,” she said.
Asked about the recent water leakage from the rooftop at the IGI velodrome due to heavy rains in the National capital, she said, “It was bad but it is all right now. Everything is OK now. It’s only that we could not do training for a couple of days. The facility here is actually very good and better than those at other countries I have gone and trained. This is a world class facility.”