The day my life changed

11th March 2011 at 00:00
As I was dragged under I kicked whatever it was in the eye ... a huge crocodile

I was planning to spend a year in Malawi after completing my PGCE, teaching a mixture of subjects to children of all ages. I had also just set up a charity and had begun working on a project to build a school complex in the Nkhata Bay District in the north of the country.

Around midday on Valentine's Day, I decided to take a swim in Lake Malawi. I often used to take the kids swimming there because the school was just on the lake shore and it was a popular fishing spot.

I swam out into the lake on my own, about 100 yards or so, and was just treading water next to a large rock. I suddenly felt a clamp around my left foot and was immediately dragged under. I looked up at the surface and saw that I was travelling down and was quickly turned on to my back. Then I started being rolled around. I was under the water for about 30 seconds, being spun around. Something was trying to drown me.

It was a very surreal experience. It is difficult to explain and although it was a frightening encounter, at the time I was mentally very calm, which was strange.

What is even stranger is that you are fine with the fact that this is it - you are near death. Obviously the other side of my brain was controlling my limbs and decided that it wasn't my time. I didn't do it purposely, but I managed to kick whatever it was in the eye. There was a momentary release and I managed to pull my foot out and swim back up to the surface.

I dragged myself up on to the large rock, which was when I first saw what had attacked me. I had an inclination as I was reaching the surface, but not until I saw it swim around the rock was I sure it was a crocodile. It was huge. The crocodile continued to swim around the rock. After seeing how big it was I thought it might climb up on to the rock so I screamed and shouted. Two or three minutes passed, and then it disappeared.

Looking down at my foot I could see it was a mess. My left heel was almost bitten off and I had a lot of teeth marks on both sides of the foot, a hole on the side and a large hole on the back. I was losing a lot of blood and was in a lot of pain.

I was about 100 yards from the shore. Thankfully a man had heard me shouting and came out in a boat. We had to rush to the nearest hospital, which was about an hour-and-a-half's drive away. I had about 60 stitches at first, without anaesthetic, and was then airlifted to Nairobi for three hours of surgery to "trim" the wounds. I spent a further two weeks recovering in hospital.

It changed my outlook on life. You try not to take things as seriously as before. You realise you are very vulnerable and that anything can happen at any time.

In July that year I returned to Malawi. I swam in the same lake, though a lot quicker than last time. I just wanted to "get the monkey off my back". It was good to draw a line under it.

I have no regrets about what happened in Malawi. Thinking back on it now, it is a fair point when people say, "You shouldn't have been swimming in there." The locals said they hadn't seen crocodiles in the area for 17 years so it was just one of those things really. I found out later that the "rogue" crocodile had been killed three weeks later by a local hunter and measured 10ft 8inches in length. It had been lurking in the area since the attack, probably because it could still smell my blood in the water.

Antony Blackmore runs the charity The Future Found with Diane Boles. For information on how you can make a donation visit www.thefuturefound.org. Antony was speaking to Kevin Benson. If you have an experience to share, email features@tes.co.uk.

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