The day my life changed: shark attack

3rd December 2010 at 00:00
I got my arm out of its jaw. There was nothing left from the elbow down

I was training for a triathlon off Gulf Shores, right here in Alabama. A group of about 15 to 18 of us had met on the beach on June 9, 2000 - a date I will remember for eternity.

We planned to do a one-and-a-half-mile swim followed by a 35-mile bike ride, but the water was quite rough that morning. Two of us - probably the strongest swimmers in the group - decided to go out and test the water, to make sure the undertow was not too overwhelming.

We were about 125 yards from the shore, swimming east to west, when I looked at my watch; it was 6.38am. I took two more strokes and was hit from below by an eight-and-a-half-foot bull shark. It hit my thighs and nearly knocked me clear out of the water on to my back. I put my face back under the water and saw it shooting towards me again.

I instinctively put my hands out in front of me and it took all four fingers from my right hand. There was no pain whatsoever at this stage - just a massive desire to survive. There was blood all around me. I tried to back-paddle, using just my left hand, when he hit me for the third time, bang in the stomach. It left a scar two-and-a-half inches deep on my stomach.

The fourth time, I saw the fin coming towards me through the water. I tried to push him off with my hands and he grabbed my arm and took me down to the bottom - about 15 feet.

My arm was still in his mouth as he went into a feeding frenzy, shaking his head back and forth. The spectators on the beach said I was down there for about two minutes, being slung around like a rag doll. My back, shoulder and right hip were sandpapered raw by the sea floor.

It's down there that I had a candid conversation with the good Lord. I asked him for help and made some promises in return. What those promises are remain between me and the good Lord, but I thank Him every morning and night.

Eventually, the shark brought me up to the surface and pushed me all the way to the beach. People said it was like I was on skis. I felt my feet touch a sand bar and I wiggled and kicked until I managed to jerk my arm out of his jaw.

It is called "degloving": the shark had stripped everything - all the skin and tissue - off the bone. There was nothing from the elbow down. The shark was never found, but if it was, it would have a Timex Ironman in its stomach that goes off at 5.30 each morning.

I fell backwards and ran on to the beach. My friend Karen found me laughing, saying: "I'm alive". I spent 13 days in intensive care, including several days in an induced coma.

I must have been trying to suck all the oxygen out of the water because my lungs were full of sea water. It meant I had an infection that saw my temperature rise to 105 degrees for three days.

But I was out of hospital 15 days later and was doing my first triathlon nine months later. I was back in school on the first day of term because it was important to show the students how important I think education is - I did not take a day off.

I still get lots of inquisitive looks and questions from the young people here but I am very willing to share my story. I may not have a right arm, but they see that I can still do everything I want in life.

I try to educate people that the ocean is a beautiful place that should not be feared. I do not want to leave a legacy of negative feelings towards sharks, either. They are extremely important to the oceans I love so much. I have made it my mission to help leave that ocean the same way I found it.

Chuck Anderson, 55, is principal of the Central Baldwin Middle School in Robertsdale, Alabama, US. He supports Pew Environment Group, a shark conservation group. He was talking to Hannah Frankel.

Log-in as an existing print or digital subscriber

Forgotten your subscriber ID?


To access this content and the full TES archive, subscribe now.

View subscriber offers


Get TES online and delivered to your door – for less than the price of a coffee

Save 33% off the cover price with this great subscription offer. Every copy delivered to your door by first-class post, plus full access to TES online and the TES app for just £1.90 per week.
Subscribers also enjoy a range of fantastic offers and benefits worth over £270:

  • Discounts off TES Institute courses
  • Access over 200,000 articles in the TES online archive
  • Free Tastecard membership worth £79.99
  • Discounts with Zipcar,, Virgin Wines and other partners
Order your low-cost subscription today