by Simone Cadwell

Shark boy

Paralympian is an inspiration to many

Shark attack survivor and Paralympics bronze medalist, Achmat Hassiem
Achmat Hassiem

Paralympics swimmer and bronze medallist, Achmat Hassiem, admits that he pictures the shark behind him when he swims.

He was attacked by a great white shark while swimming as a lifeguard in Muizenberg, Cape Town.

Six years ago, he gave new meaning to the word lifeguard when he lured the shark away from his brother as it was about to attack.

Before then Hassiem had competed in various sports, including swimming. He had two goals in mind, to wear the colours of his country at a sporting event and to win.

This was his motivation in every sport he played and he soon became captain of each team. When he lost his leg, he was unsure of what lay ahead and his future looked bleak.

It was South African Paralympic swimming champion Natalie du Toit who encouraged Hassiem to get back into the water. Before long, he started breaking his country's Paralympic records. 

"I took to the pool like a shark in the ocean," he said with a laugh.

He went to the London paralympics, determined to win a medal and walked away with the bronze for the men's 100m butterfly.

"My little secret is obviously that I just try and imagine I'm in the ocean and I've got a four and a half metre great white shark at my feet," Hassiem said. "It's definitely good motivation to swim fast." 

"I believe I lost my leg for a good reason," he said. 

"Losing a leg is nothing compared to losing my brother, so I'm just trying to make the best of it."

Du Toit, one of the most decorated Paralympians who was also the first amputee to compete against able-bodied swimmers at the Olympics in 2008, said Hassiem was an inspiration to others.

"It's been great to see Achmat do better and better in the last couple of years," she said. "I think he's become a role model because people look at him and wonder how they would cope in that situation. He's just gotten on with it and kept going."

"That shark turned my life around for a reason," said Hassiem, "and I've got to make the best of all my opportunities now."

Look out for the full interview with Achmat Hassiem in the next edition of Ubuntu magazine.

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