Wharnsby: Hockey lifer survived tsunami senior hockey writer Tim Wharnsby tells the story of how power-skating coach David Roy of Kelowna, B.C., survived the Thailand tsunami five years ago.

David Roy was aware of the severe weather warnings. He saw the locals sprinting for safer ground.

But like so many of us, who ignore fire alarms or a car's blaring anti-theft siren, he carried on with his vacation that day on the Phi Phi Islands in Thailand five years ago.

Roy admits he had no idea what exactly a tsunami was or what sort of devastation and destruction it leaves in its wake.

"I never saw it coming," recalled the popular power-skating coach from Kelowna, B.C.

"I never expected it. What I recall is, it was like getting hit by a truck and then being thrown into a washing machine, in which you get tossed upside-down."

Roy was lucky. He survived the natural disaster that claimed about 230,000 lives in 14 countries that border the Indian Ocean.

The rest of his family — wife Jamie, daughters Lindsay and Sarah and son-in-law Mikel — had scampered to safer confines on the small island. Roy was on the deck of the cabin his family had rented when the tsunami hit.

"I'm the kind of guy that just rolls over when a fire alarm goes off in the middle of the night," Roy said. "I started asking people what was going on, but nobody would answer.

"As soon as I got hit, I felt I was going to die. That was the sick feeling I had in my stomach. For me, I was thinking that I couldn't die yet.

"A big part of that is my faith. The work I do with kids, I feel, is more ministry than anything else. I teach kids character and values and having faith. I felt my work wasn't done yet."

Roy was carried from one end of the small island to the other by the tsunami, a few city blocks. He caught a break when he looked up and could see daylight.

He was surrounded by tables, chairs, doors and other debris in the water, but he struggled to the surface.

"Somehow, you find the strength to get out of that situation," Roy said. "I managed to get my nose and mouth to the surface."

Roy was rescued when a New Zealander searching for a lost friend spotted Roy in the water. Roy's leg was severely injured, though.

With his family wondering if he was still alive, he was flown to a hospital on the mainland. The fear was that infection from the dirty water had set in and Roy might lose his right leg.

The medical staff worked diligently to clean up his wounds, but with damage to the knee and a muscle that was shredded, Roy was not out of danger. There still was the possibility that he wouldn't be able to walk again, let alone skate.

Roy spent the next three weeks in a Bangkok hospital and another week under medical care back in Kelowna. The attention he received, along with his strong faith, had Roy confident he would be on the ice teaching later that summer.

'That was a wakeup call for me'

The prediction from doctors was that he would be skating by September. But he returned to the ice in May, five months after nearly losing his life.

"As soon as I started walking again, I pushed myself," Roy said. "I began sprinting up 65 flights of stairs every day, but then my physio [therapist] told me she was going to stop working with me.

"I asked her, 'Why?' She told me that my leg was so swollen from my workouts that she couldn't do anything for me. That was a wakeup call for me."

Roy was raised in Toronto, played junior hockey for the Toronto Marlboros and Peterborough Petes. He was a teammate of future NHL star Brad Park with the Marlboros and got the coaching bug from the late Roger Neilson, then with the Petes.

Roy furthered his career with a scholarship to the University of Minnesota-Duluth, where he met his wife, and then went to law school at the University of Western Ontario in London. He played for Western, too, because he had one final season of eligibility.

But Roy never did practise law because he enjoyed teaching power skating to everyone, from NHLers to juniors to kids.

'I broke down in tears'

Roy spent a few seasons as an assistant coach for the Philadelphia Flyers under Ken Hitchcock, but his focus is teaching kids. So when he was able to return to the ice in May 2005 after his experience in Thailand, it was an emotional time.

"When I drove home that day, I broke down in tears," Roy said. "I wasn't crying about my situation.

"I thought back to all the people I met back in the hospital who lost family members or friends. I wondered why I was kept alive and allowed to skate and, 'Why do I deserve this?'"

Roy's purpose is clear today.

"My focus is on the kids, that they come out, the time they spend with me, with character and values and the importance of being part of a team," he said.