Surviving a Tsunami: A Story of Clashing Waves

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Surviving a tsunami was difficult for Naperville resident, Jib Chutipong. But combating her fear of waves, with waves, allowed her to accomplish an unbelievable feat.

For three years, she kept it a secret from her Naperville Waves teammates. Jib Chutipong had hesitations entering the cold and vast waters of Lake Michigan. No one knew why.

Jib: I don’t like seeing the beach, I don’t like the lake… cause, they’re too powerful.

It’s not just Lake Michigan, it’s all large bodies of water.

They’re powerful… and potentially deadly.

In 2004, a 9.3 magnitude earthquake rattled the Indian Ocean… the third largest in recorded history… resulting in catastrophic tsunamis

Jib… was in a speedboat off the coast of Phuket in her native Thailand

Jib: When they started taking the boat out… that was when the tsunami hit. Out of nowhere… no noise, no nothing.

It started as a fun day of island hopping. Jib going out with 4 nieces and nephews on her neighbor’s new boat.

And then she got a call warning her of potential giant waves.

Jib: It’s as calm as it can be. We are on the east side, we should be okay.

But the Aunt had an uneasy feeling… and made an unpopular decision

Jib: Okay, guys – today you need to keep lifejackets on, at all times, or you’re in trouble with me. And they were not happy because they just wanted to play.

Jib: The boat went almost vertical. I had to grab on to the side. And at the same time I looked back and the beach was gone. All the people on the beach were gone.

Jib’s nieces and nephews survived, her neighbors brother… did not.

In total, the tsunami claimed over 200-thousand lives in 14 countries.

Jib: By being a handicap from the beginning I feel that I’m weaker physically. That experience just made it ten-fold.

After attending grad school in River Forest prior to the tsunami, Jib made the decision to return to the US

6 years after having her world rocked by the sea… she turned to the water, with the Naperville Waves, in 2010.

And three years later – made her way to Lake Michigan to train for a 2 and a half kilometer race.

Jib: I couldn’t have done it without waves. I went to the beach with them, not liking it but I like being with the team. So I went to hang out with them, didn’t plan on swimming. I went in, with all the confidence in Sue. And so she said go try – she set up a group for me. And that group gave me even more confidence because the first time I went in I had three panic attacks.

What started as a few test swims, turned into an emotion race day at the “Big Shoulders, Open Water Swim Classic” with Jib crossing the finish line alongside Waves founder and head coach Sue Welker.

Sue: Obviously she was very fatigued. She was cold and then the immobility of being on the sand and the instability. The other, fourth, component of that was the emotions of that because they were running. Because for her that was such a magnificent goal and it was bigger than anything that she had ever… it would be like if you or I ran a marathon or Iron Man.

And it was only post race when Jib opened up to her coach and teammates about her traumatic experience.

Jib: Without my teammates and Sue, I wouldn’t have been able to do this.

Sue: After we did the swim it just all came together. And I was just very proud of what she had gone through. I know she continues to struggle with how difficult it was for her.

Conquering her fear of water… with water. With the waves that once took away her confidence away… soon providing a support system for an unbelievable accomplishment.

Reporting for Sports Story Sunday, I’m Kevin Jackman

For more stories of personal feats and team camaraderie, visit out Sports Story Sunday page!