Saturday, August 30, 2008

Shark Safety - Punch It in the Nose

While we primarily report on the races, athletes, techniques, results and noteworthy events in the world of open water swimming, solo marathon swimming attempts and relays, it also celebrates and appreciates heroism in the open water

In the Olympic 10K Marathon Swim, we saw the athletic heroism of Natalie du Toit and Maarten van der Weijden.

Outside the Olympics, real-life heroism often takes place in unexpected places during unexpected times. At its 2007 national convention, USA Swimming recognized one of these acts of heroism - that happened in the open water.

USA Swimming awarded Gary Hall Jr. its 2007 Adolf Keifer Safety Commendation Award.

The Adolf Keifer Safety Commendation Award is given to an individual or organization for demonstrating outstanding commitment to aquatic safety.

The circumstances of Gary's heroism were well-reported in July 2007 by the Los Angeles Times and Swimming World Magazine, but we'll repeat the story here for the open water swimming community.

Gary, a 10-time Olympic medalist and co-founder of the Race Club, was spear-fishing in the Florida Keys with his sister, Bebe Hall, when they were attacked by a 6-foot black tip reef shark.

According to a report written by Phillip Whitten for Swimming World Magazine, Bebe and Gary diving when Gary speared a large snapper. Bebe spotted a large reef shark, so they decided to head back to their boat. Gary held the snapper out of the water while kicking on his back, as Bebe kept a wary eye on the shark that began to swim toward them.

Suddenly, Bebe felt a bump on her shoulder. Unobserved, a second - and larger - shark had been attracted to the two swimmers. Bebe turned and saw the shark's head at her shoulder, then it turned and was swimming between Gary's legs as he kicked furiously.

Gary was yelling for Bebe to reload the spear, which she did, but with the shark between herself and her brother, she knew that if she missed the shark, she would shoot Gary.

Then, the shark turned toward Bebe for the kill. She shot it with her spear gun, the spear going down the shark's throat. Then she pulled out the spear. Discouraged, the shark swam away as the two swimmers reached their boat - and safety.

"It went from being a really very scary experience to a very cool experience the second we reached safety," Gary told Lisa Dillman of the Los Angeles Times.

"Another shark, larger than the first one we saw, came in from the side, bit her on the arm. I didn’t even realize she had been bit before the shark was on me. I was kicking it and punching it repeatedly."

"It was swimming after me and thrashing and had its back arched in a frenzy mode. I kept punching it in the nose and kicking it, and it kept coming after me. I was eventually able to get underneath it and roll it off of me. That’s when it charged toward my sister. She had already been bit, but in the meantime, she had enough sense to load the spear."

"The shark charged her with its mouth open and she shot it. Fortunately, really fortunately actually, she injured the shark badly enough, a lot of blood was pouring from its mouth. The shark was injured enough that it swam off. Otherwise, with her bleeding as much as she was, it really could have been disastrous."

When they returned to the boat, Gary cut a sling and used it as a tourniquet for Bebe’s arm. Bebe told Swimming World Magazine, "It was pure self-defense. It must be credited to the women’s self-defense course I took my freshman year in college."

Copyright © 2008 by Open Water Source

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