In December 2004, Petra Nemcova, a Sports Illustrated swimsuit model, was on a romantic trip through Thailand, showing off the country she loved to her boyfriend, Simon Atlee. Then the tsunami struck -- the fierce waves carried Atlee away to an untimely death. Nemcova survived, clinging to a tree with a shattered pelvis.
In her new book, "Love Always, Petra: A Story of Courage and the Discovery of Life's Hidden's Gifts," Nemcova shares her story of how she healed both physically and emotionally from the tragedy. She also tells the story of her rise from a poor Czech teenager to an international modeling success. Below is the prologue from the book.
December 26, 2004
Khao Lak, Thailand
It brought me back to consciousness, a sharp, agonizing, throbbing pain racking my body, my legs.
I opened my eyes and looked down. Black filthy water covered the lower half of my body. I couldn't even see my legs. My arms, bare, scratched, bleeding and aching, were wrapped around a palm tree. I was holding on, leaning against the trunk. Black, oil-slicked, muddied water choked with debris was everywhere. I looked up. The sky was blue, clear, untroubled, the sun was shining. Where was I? Where was Simon? What had happened?
Simon and I were in the bungalow when a rush of water rose up so suddenly there was not even a second to think, a rush of water that came from all directions, hurtling us out into the furious current. For one split second, before the water separated us, I saw Simon's face.
"Petra!" he screamed. "Petra! What's happening?"
I couldn't answer. I didn't know. Then I lost sight of him. Seconds later, I saw him again, whirling in the tumbling waters. He was a few yards ahead of me. Behind him a rooftop was sticking out of the water.
"Catch the roof! Catch the roof!" I shouted. Then he was gone. I don't know whether he heard me or not. I prayed that he would catch hold. I was sure he would. He was a strong swimmer; he had to be okay.
It was impossible to tell in which direction the waters were streaming. I needed to grab onto something or be swept away. I saw another rooftop. I reached out my arms, and sending out every bit of energy I had, I grabbed the edges and held on. Instantly, my legs were sucked underneath, and everything accumulated by the raging water, the wood and metal objects, all the trash, began slamming against my hips and legs. I hung on, screaming with pain and fear. I would be crushed into nothing. For the first time, I thought of dying.
Miraculously, the pressure of the water began to lessen. I pulled myself up onto the roof. My clothes had been torn from my body. I was naked. Then, as quickly as the first, another tremendous wave rose up and poured over the rooftop. I lost my grip and was drawn down beneath the water. Frantically, I flailed my arms, trying to get out from under the thick layer of filth between me and the surface. Desperately, I fought to get some air until I had no breath left. I stopped fighting, stopped struggling, and began swallowing the inky water. A great feeling of peacefulness came over me. I surrendered to the calmness. Whatever was meant to be, whatever God will decide, it's okay.
At that moment, without any effort on my part, I was thrust through the barrier of debris to the surface. I threw my head back and gasped for air. Above me was the blue, blue sky. I was never so happy in my life to see the sky.