“Mum, is there a river near here?”
It was a simple question from her 13-year-old daughter Meg that stopped Lindsay Asquith in her tracks.
“I was thinking, our hotel was on the beach, we are nowhere near a river,” Lindsay tells 7Life of the moment that changed her life.
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The family of five was on a seaside tour of Southeast Asia, the first stop being Thailand.
It was December 26, 2004, and the Asquiths were at their hotel packing suitcases for the next flight of their holiday.
Glancing at her daughter’s puzzled expression, Lindsay made her way to the balcony of their second-floor beachside resort.
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Looking out across the eerily quiet ocean, the mum stood frozen.
An enormous wall of muddy water stretching across the horizon was steamrolling towards them.
“I had lived in Japan so I knew exactly what it was. A tsunami,” Lindsay says.
“It was slow moving, and the colour, it was like a river had broken its banks.
“I knew we needed to get away from this — and now.”
Boxing Day tsunami
Now known as the deadliest tsunami in history — reaching 14 countries and killing more than 230,000 people — the waves of destruction were triggered when a 9.1 magnitude quake struck off the northern tip of Indonesia at 7.59am local time on Boxing Day 2004.
The quake lasted 10 minutes, causing the earth’s crust to shake up to one centimetre.
It displaced enormous volumes of water and created waves of staggering heights — up to 20 metres.
In some locations, the tsunami waves were said to have travelled as far as 3km inland.
Lindsay and her three daughters Megan, Holly and Kate. Credit: Supplied
As Lindsay stood shocked on the balcony of her Thai hotel, she was on the front line as the history-making wave rolled towards her.
“I’ll be honest, it was pretty scary,” she says.
Lindsay, her now ex-husband John and their three daughters Megan, Holly and Kate quickly headed to the higher floors of the hotel.
“We just kept running up and getting higher and higher.”
The mum recalls watching the first wave roll in and submerge the first floor entirely.
But the true power of the water was shown as it pulled back into the ocean.
Staring down in horror, the family watched helplessly as the water churned up cars, homes and trees, dragging them back out into the depths of the sea.
In utter disbelief, Lindsay will never forget watching those struck by the fury of the wave being towed like rag dolls into the Indian Ocean.
“It just sucked everything out — houses, lives… Nature is such a powerful thing,” Lindsay says.
But she didn’t have time to take in its true destruction, as she caught a glimpse of a second wave headed their way.
Banda Aceh, Indonesia, 1km from where the tsunami came ashore. Credit: DEPARTMENT OF DEFENCE/Supplied
Instantly, she collected her youngest daughter into her arms and watched as John grabbed their middle child.
The parents then looked over to their eldest daughter Meg, who was then 13, and Lindsay’s heart shattered.
Meg looked up and bravely told her Mum to not worry, she would be okay.
It was a moment Lindsay will never forget — when she realised she didn’t have enough arms to protect all her children.
The family huddled together as the second wave struck.
“It really shows you how powerless you are against the ocean,” Lindsay says.
Thankfully, the second wave was not as powerful as the first and, as it swirled back towards the sea, John jumped into action.
He knew it wasn’t safe for the family to stay put.
Lindsay couldn’t speak more highly of not just the hotel workers, but each person they came across as they began their escape.
“Everyone was just helping each other,” she says.
“(Such as) the Thai workers — they would have had people caught up, and their homes too, but they were helping us.”
Fearing more waves would come, the Asquiths managed to book a flight out later that day.
The lower-lying beachside airport meant leaving the relative safety of ‘higher ground’ but they knew they had to flee.
Wading through the churning water, they came face to face with the sheer force and devastation that the towering waves had left behind.
Lindsay describes her family as “the lucky ones”.
With almost a quarter of a million people killed by the unprecedented tsunami, the Asquiths left Thailand feeling as if a higher power had been looking out for them.
A Landing Craft vehicle delivers materials and supplies to the city of Meulaboh on the island of Sumatra, Indonesia. Credit: US Navy/Getty Images
Following the trauma of living through the event, Lindsay made a conscious decision not to listen to news about the tsunami, not wanting to relive what had happened.
And for two years, she tried not to dwell on what had occurred on Boxing Day in 2004.
It wasn’t until she was standing at the water’s edge at a Sydney beach seven years later that her memories came rushing back.
Her daughter, who had been bobbing around in the ocean, had swum back to her mum.
“She said: ‘Mum, why don’t you swim (out) to your depth?’,” Lindsay recalls.
“I didn’t realise but I guess I never admitted to myself I was afraid of the ocean.”
The mum of three hadn’t swum in open waters since the tsunami.
The Boxing Day tsunami killed more than 227,000 people. Credit: Getty
When her kids would ask her to go swimming, she would use excuses such as not wanting to get her hair wet.
In reality, she wanted nothing to do with the ocean, having seen its devastating power in 2004.
“It was the moment of realisation I had survivors guilt — so many families didn’t survive or they lost children,” she says.
“I didn’t want to put myself in danger, even though I know it’s more dangerous driving a car or getting off a bus.”
Lindsay realised she could no longer allow the ocean to hold its sway over her.
So she decided to sign up for The Big Swim, an ocean-swimming event run by the charity Can Too, who raises funds for cancer research.
“I could swim comfortably for 2km in a pool,” Lindsay says, adding that in the sea she couldn’t manage to get past her knees.
During the first week of training for the event, Lindsay recalls the gentle waves trickling through her toes as she dug her feet firmly in the sand.
“Someone who I had met in the pool and really bonded with came up to me and said, ‘Come on let’s go’,” she says.
“I told her I wasn’t feeling like it today and she just stood right by me.”
Tears began to roll down Lindsay’s face as she stood frozen in fear.
Lindsay (right) and her friend Robby at Bondi Beach swimming for Can Too. Credit: Supplied
Her new friend turned to her and said: “Well if you are not going in, neither am I.”
The mum hated letting people down so, little by little, she made her way into the water.
“For the first two or three years I had butterflies in my stomach,” Lindsay says of the hold the ocean had over her.
“But I learnt how to control them.”
Can Too supported Lindsay in her personal journey and the mum continued to sign up and raise money for the charity.
As the years ticked by, she became more confident in the ocean and began using the swims as a mindfulness exercise.
Lindsay has been part of Can Too for over 11 years. Credit: Supplied
She was nominated as team captain a few years later — and began helping others overcome their own fears of the water.
Lindsay has now been with Can Too for more than 11 years and has not only overcome her fear of the water but helped countless others.
She has raised thousands of dollars towards cancer research and has kicked personal fitness goals.
“You are never alone when you are with Can Too,” she smiles.
“It is not just about getting fit; it is a community.”