Skip to content

Paralympic swimmer’s motivation: he pretends he’s being chased by the shark that bit off his leg

Sep 4, 2012, 10:05 AM EDT

London Paralympics Swimming AP

Achmat Hassiem of South Africa finished ninth in the 100-meter butterfly at the Paralympic Games in Beijing in 2008, and this year in London he was determined to do better. His motivation? He simply imagines that he was being chased by the Great White shark that bit off his leg.

Yep, that’ll work every time. On Saturday Hassiem won the bronze.

It happened in 2006 in Cape Town, South Africa, when Hassiem was participating in a lifeguard training exercise. In distracting a shark that was swimming toward his brother, he was dragged about 50 meters by the shark and had his right leg bitten off below the knee.

“My little secret is obviously that I just try and imagine I’m in the ocean and I’ve got a 4½-meter great white shark at my feet,” Hassiem said. “It’s definitely good motivation to swim fast.”

Natalie du Toit, who was the first amputee ever to qualify for the Olympics (marathon swimming, 2008), encouraged Hassiem to get into competitive swimming. Later this week he’ll swim in the 100- and 400-meter freestyle.

“That shark turned my life around for a reason, and I’ve got to make the best of all my opportunities now,” he said.