On 26 December 2004, the coasts of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands were devastated by a 10 m (33 ft) high tsunami following the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake. More than 2,000 people lost their lives, more than 4,000 children were orphaned or suffered the loss of one parent, and a minimum of 40,000 people were rendered homeless.

But Deborah Herold, then a child of 9, survived. She survived by climbing a tree and staying there for 10 days. Her parents had her little brother in their arms but she got separated from them. The only way to escape the rising water was to go higher.

"It happened on a Sunday. My mother went to church, she was not at home. I was sleeping in my room when I felt the quake. She came running back and woke us up. Our house was flooded, I held on to my mother and we ran towards the jungle near the hills," Deborah told ScoopWhoop.

"My family continued to run but I couldn't keep up with the pace and got lost. So I climbed a tree and stayed there for 10 days.

"After 10 days, my parents came looking for me and by then the water level had gone down. I heard their voices when they called out my name and I shouted back. By God's grace I got reunited with my family," she further added.

Deborah Herold with the national India coach RK Singh. Image credit: RK Singh.

If nothing else, this was an early sign of her extraordinary determination. This was a girl who didn't like getting beaten; who didn't like losing to anyone or anything.

Her meteoric rise up the world cycling ranks is evidence of all those qualities and a hunger to be the absolute best at what she does.

In October 2015, she became the first Indian cyclist to win five medals at the Taiwan Cup and then two months later, in December, she became the first Indian female cyclist to be ranked fourth in the world, according to the World Elite Women Ranking issued by cycling world body UCI for the 500m time trial event.

Cycling isn't exactly an Indian sport. Yes, Hero sells a lot of cycles in India but competitive cycling is a whole new ball game. But no one told Deborah that... not that it would have mattered.

So how did she get here? What is her story -- how did she go from tsunami survivor to world no.4?

'Let me give it a go'

File photo of Deborah Herold. Image credit: RK Singh.

"Yes I was an athlete. I used to compete in the high jump and the long jump. I was a state level competitor and I won a lot of medals," recalls Deborah.

"But my knees used to hurt and I was bored with athletics too. Then, one day I saw a news on a cycling competition and I told my mother I wanted to quit athletics and learn cycling.

"My mummy was skeptical, 'it is so hard, how will you do it?' she asked. But I said 'let me give it a go, let me try. So there was school level meet in Andaman, I rode in that and I managed to come first."

It all started from this point. Thanks to her background in athletics, she had the perfect physique to take up cycling, but technically, she was far from ready. Some things came naturally to her, others were hard work.

"I remember I was on a ship in Port Blair when I came to know that was selected by SAI. After that I tried to continue with my studies but I was not very interested," said Deborah.

Her first coach, 'Mr Sengupta' came to her rescue. He started training her body up first -- jogging and basic techniques were drilled into her and it wasn't until two months had passed that she first got into a velodrome. It was a slow, learning curve but she clearly had talent.

"He was a good coach. The only barrier I had was I couldn't speak Hindi. He was a Bengali and I only knew Nicobari. But eventually I learnt Hindi by communicating more in that language with everyone," said Deborah. "Then I clinched her first track gold at the 2012 Amritsar Nationals."

And that changed things.

The Big League

Deborah Herold during one of her practice sessions in IG Stadium | Image credit: Anikesh Kishor/ScoopWhoop

Success at the nationals brought her recognition and the national coaches quickly moved her into the national camp. That move came with its own problems.

"Yes I had problems. But eventually I got the language. I spoke to people in English more and that's how I learnt it," she said.

According to national cycling coach RK Sharma, she is on the right track now. She spends five to six hours everyday training hard; training so hard that she ends up lying on the ground curled up in a ball. Then she gets on the cycle and trains some more. Three sets of rounds on her bike in the velodrome, warming up and stretches. Just watching her is exhausting.

"She never gives up. She always gives her 110%. She fights till the end. She has spirit," said Sharma, who has been coaching her for the last two years.

Presently, she is being coached for the sprint, keirin and team sprint, which are all events that are part of the Olympics. She has also been practicing for 500m time trial which is not a part of the Olympics, but is part of the World Championship.

"I have been training her for 2 years, so as far as I have seen her, she is passionate about cycling. She is completely focused on just one thing: increasing her pace. Faster and faster," Sharma added.

And when things get a bit too tough, she goes back to that fateful day - December 26, 2004.

"Now I understand bad times come unexpectedly. I have an international medal now, purely because of hard work. When I won my international medal, I understood that I can achieve anything by hardwork," she said. "My target right now is Olympics 2020."

Words she doesn't take lightly and her opponents would do well to pay heed.

A wise man once said, where there is a will there is a way. A determined woman named Deborah Herold has proved him right.