“Shark Boy” A Miracle In The Swimming Pool
Whenever Achmat Hassiem competes in the swimming pool, he gives himself some added incentive. The 34-year-old South African Paralympic swimmer, who is competing in the Games in Rio De Janeiro this week, told the Canadian Press in an interview that he always pretends he is being chased by a shark.
Hassiem lost his left leg in a shark attack in 2006. He said he was swimming in False Bay off the coast of Cape Town’s Muizenberg Beach. It’s known to be frequented by Great Whites that pursue seals into the area. “It’s my little way to get my adrenalin pumping when I get behind the blocks. I imagine I’m in the ocean, and this massive Great White is in the water and she’s saying. “Hey Achmat, I’m right behind you. I’m coming for you.” Then I swim as hard as I can to get away from her. Hopefully, I can get away from her at gold-medal pace.”
Hassiem says at the time of the shark attack, he was a semi-pro soccer goalkeeper. He was swimming with his younger brother, Tarig when they spotted the telltale fins of the shark.
He said when he saw it was headed right for his brother, he knew he had to something, so he tried to distract it by slapping and splashing hard in the water. His tactic worked and people in a lifeguard boat were able to pull Tarig to safety. However, he then had his own problems because the Great White headed straight for him. There was nothing he could do as the shark bit into his leg.
Hassiem reported to the Canadian Press it was a terrible feeling as the shark tightened its grip and then began to pull him under the ocean waves. Then, just as he thought he was going down for good, the lifeguards seized him and began pulling him back. They succeeded, but the shark left with his leg.
The next thing he knew he woke up in a hospital and he said it was so devastating he thought his life was over. He said he lay feeling totally despondent when he got a surprise visit from a South African Paralympic swimmer. It was Natalie Du Toit, one of the most decorated Paralympic swimmers in the history of the sport. Despite her handicap, she sometimes competed against able-bodied swimmers. By the time she retired from the sport, she had won 13 gold medals.
Hassiem said she was such an inspiration to him, he decided to try out for the Paralympics. In 2008 he competed in his first Games and ended up ninth. Then, in 2012 he won a bronze medal. This year he’s hoping to win gold.
The Paralympic says he’s called “Shark Boy” around the swimming pool and it’s a nickname he loves because, despite his near fatal encounter with the shark, he bears it no ill well and believes it has given him a great opportunity.
He has become an advocate for shark conservation and is a member of Save Our Seas, which helps fund the preservation of marine life. He has also been named Global Shark Guardian by the United Nations.