I survived the day 227,898 people died

 

SARAH Ayles went into Australian Survivor: Champions V Contenders quietly confident in her ability to win the reality show - despite tough competition from this year's champions.

She's a survivor in every sense of the word, having lived through one of the biggest natural disasters of all time.

"To me, Survivor was a challenge, and it was fun and it was a game. At the end of the day I was not going to starve or get sick and die from disease," Ayles told news.com.au.

"And I knew that my mental toughness, I could get through anything. I could be stuck on a beach in bathers. It didn't phase me because I've been there before."

When Ayles says she has been there before she really means it.

Fifteen years ago she was holidaying in Sri Lanka with her former fiance and business partner Sujeewa Kamalasuriya when tragedy stuck; it was Boxing Day, 2004.

Sarah Ayles is a survivor. Picture: Nigel Wright.
Sarah Ayles is a survivor. Picture: Nigel Wright.

Ayles was on holiday with Mr Kamalasuriya - with whom she had a "golden friendship" despite their romantic relationship having ended - when the tsunami hit the beach at which they were planning to spend the day snorkelling.

"He died, and five members of his family died, and I lived, and a little girl in his family lived too," Ayles said.

"We were actually on the beach when it came in. We pulled the car in, took off my gear, had the snorkelling mask on and then things changed.

"(The tsunami was) more like a tide coming in rather than what you see with the big wave … his family was on their way down to meet us in a van and their van got hit.

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Ayles (nee Roberts) with Sujeewa Kamalasuriya in Sri Lanka.
Ayles (nee Roberts) with Sujeewa Kamalasuriya in Sri Lanka.

 

"A little girl who was 10 at the time survived and ended up in an orphanage, but they never found (the other family members') bodies. So it was harrowing, it was a harrowing few days."

As the tsunami hit, Ayles tried to escape it by climbing up a series of stairs but was swept 800 metres by the wave until she was pulled onto a roof by other survivors.

"It's unbelievable, I got a little bit of a scar on my right foot where I got caught on a balcony when I jumped off - my foot got caught - and my back got a bit scraped when I was pulled onto the roof, and that was it," she said.

 

The tsunami devastated Sri Lanka’s coastal regions.
The tsunami devastated Sri Lanka’s coastal regions.

"It either took you out or (not), there wasn't really much middle ground."

More than 230,000 people died in the Boxing Day tsunami across 14 countries, including an estimated 35,000 along Sri Lanka's east coast.

After surviving the impossible, Ayles returned to Adelaide where she tried to keep a "low profile" managing the company she had with Mr Kamalasuriya.

Ayles suffered nightmares for the next year-and-a-half as she tried to keep her life together, something she only achieved through "sheer grit".

 

Ayles wasn’t afraid to embrace the game on Survivor.
Ayles wasn’t afraid to embrace the game on Survivor.

"At my worst point, I woke up one night not knowing who I was because my brain just shut down," she recalled.

" … (But) I was extremely determined not to let this hell of a thing rule my life or affect my company, affect my staff. They had jobs, I was responsible for paying 250-300 people's payroll."

Now married mother-of-two Ayles works as a cleaner and decided to apply for Australian Survivor last year in search of adventure - but also aware it was far from a life or death situation.

"I've always been a fan and I love adventure. And I love the idea of going out and having nothing and having to build a fire and survive basically, putting myself to the ultimate test," she said.

 

Australian Survivor: Champions V Contenders premieres Wednesday 7.30pm on Network 10. Watch the first 12 minutes of episode one in the video player at the top of the page.



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