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AthleteI'm Achmat Hassiem. I lost my leg to a great white shark. Now I’m a Paralympian competing in the 2016 Rio games and an advocate for shark conservation. AMA!

Jun 30th 2016 by achmathassiem • 15 Questions • 3673 Points

My short bio: Ten years ago, I met a great white shark who took part of my leg with her when we parted. That experience changed my life—for the better—by helping me get where I am today. At the 2012 Paralympics in London, I won a bronze medal for South Africa in the 100-meter butterfly. Now I’m getting ready to compete again in Rio de Janeiro.

I also work to save sharks. Since 2010, I’ve traveled the world advocating for shark conservation with The Pew Charitable Trusts. I’ve visited the U.N, the US Capitol, and have met with government leaders in countries across the globe. My next stop (after the Paralympics in Brazil) is closer to home: this fall I’m going to speak to government officials at CITES. They’re gathering to discuss global trade protections for endangered species—including thresher and silky sharks and mobula rays.

Edit: This was my first Reddit AMA, and it was pretty fun! Thanks for your questions, and don't forget to root for me (#sharkboy) in Rio!

My Proof: https://twitter.com/achmathassiem/status/747874904289255425

Q:

Describe the pain of a shark bite?

A:

in all honesty i did not feel any pain during the encounter, i was more in shock to actually think about pain. Guess my adrenalin just took over


Q:

What's been the greatest obstacle since the shark attack?

A:

personally, i find obstacles in everyday things, such as just going to play soccer with my mates/ friends and even just going to the beach and going for a open ocean paddle.


Q:

I have read many stories of people hunting down sharks especially in the aftermath of an attack. As someone who had a close encounter with one and now a strong advocate of shark conservation, what can you say about that?

You are an inspiration and good luck in Rio!

A:

Getting attacked by a shark is traumatic…I can understand how someone is angry after that experience. but I didn’t get mad. The experience changed my life for the better! And I learned how much sharks are vital for health of the ocean, so killing them I don’t think is ever the right answer


Q:

Hi Achmat,

First off, congrats on making the Paralympics! What is the most important thing you have learned from this entire experience? And how will it impact you going forward?

Thanks for doing the AMA!!

A:

Thank you so much. I learned so much about sharks – so few people know how many sharks are killed every year…at least 100 million sharks die every year at the hands of humans. I also was not aware that so many sharks have live babies, and only a few every year, or every two years. So it’s pretty much impossible for them to recover the losses they suffer. AND, most importantly…I learned that without sharks in the ocean, the ocean’s food chain would be broken and our oceans ecosystems would be thrown off balance. So we have to protect sharks! oh…and of course, it proved to me that I am capable of overcoming anything with the right attitude.


Q:

Do you have any worries about attending the Rio Olympics and how are you preparing for them?

A:

No worries at all, as a professional athlete, we need to minimize as much stress as possible and focus on the goal at hand which is to bring back the gold home. I train swimming 8 times a week, and gym 6 times per week, also diet is the most important thing, which is also my hardest :)


Q:

What warnings have you been given about conditions in Rio?

A:

What conditions are you speaking about specifically? As team south africa we have been given no warnings just yet...


Q:

Have you, or plan to see the new movie "The Shallows"? And what is your take on why the human population is so hellbent on making sharks appear to be bloodthirsty monsters when time and time again studies prove they are not as aggressive as previously deemed?

edit: also good luck in rio! Be safe and wear tons of bug spray!

A:

i think i might see it. People love stories with heroes and villains, and sharks make great movie villains. But like you said, in real life, sharks aren’t monsters and they make the ocean healthier. It’s important for me to get this message out about sharks so that people can learn to tell entertaining fiction from reality


Q:

What are the things you find easier without having a part of your leg?

A:

Good question, certain sleeping positions, not having to worry about a snake biting me on the right leg as i hike through nature and also makes me 2kgs instantly lighter when racing ;)


Q:

Hey Achmat! How has the shark encounter effected your swimming prowess?

A:

The shark encounter has given me a better attitude towards life and many other things i do, it made me a better swimmer than before when i had two legs. I won a bronze medal at the London Paralympics and got the chance to represent my country many times over, and I owe that to meeting the great white shark in 2006 who put me on this path. Hope that answers your question. :)


Q:

Hi Achmat,

In your opinion, what is best way that we can promote shark conservation?

A:

education is always the key!!! When people have the facts, they can make better decisions. Sharks are not the man-eating killing machines that are portrayed in movies and in fiction. Sharks are a necessary component of healthy oceans, but are currently being fished to extinction. Here’s a video that explains why sharks are important. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yDqzGOa-adc Shark Week is a great chance to teach people! :)


Q:

If you could be any type of shark, which species would you be and why?

A:

Awesome question, definitely a Great Hammerhead, because it looks so badass! ;)


Q:

Do you harbour any major concerns going to Rio in wake of all the controversy surrounding the games?

A:

Not really, most of my focus is just to get there, compete as best i can and bring some precious metal home to my country. There have been many concerns in past Games. And from my experience they all ran smoothly.


Q:

Hi Achmat, thanks for doing this AMA!

My question is: what is your opinion about the criticism of Oscar Pistorius for competing in regular races, who claim that his prosthetics give him an advantage over someone with normal limbs? Do you think there will be similar controversies in the future with swimmers and other athletes, as medical technologies continue to improve?

A:

thank you for your message. I definitely think that as time goes on technology will get better in sport in general. Prosthetics will become better, stronger and faster. But one ,thing that must be remembered is these athletes have disabilities which will still hamper their performance despite the tech they use


Q:

What?

A:

Depends on what you want to grow my friend :)