Athletes & Celebrities

Shark Attack Survivor Stays Strong

After losing two limbs from a shark attack, Paul de Gelder continues to brave the waters.

Paul De Gelder on ocean raft

It’s not every day you walk into a gym and see someone benching 300 lbs with perfect form, much less someone missing an arm and a leg. Yet for Paul de Gelder such a seemingly impossible feat is reality, thanks to a positive mindset and inspiring fearlessness, both when it comes to new life challenges and the shark that took two of his four limbs. 

“Fitness was always a huge part of my life,” says de Gelder, whose first swimming experience came at just 2 weeks, when his father took him out into the water for his first swim lesson. He was an exceptional athlete and a competitive swimmer growing up, but it wasn’t until his experience with the military that de Gelder was able to hone his talents and find the focus, determination and willpower that makes him the fighter he is today. 

Paul De Gelder on Sea-Doo

“Before the military I had a really tough time,” says de Gelder. “I fought and clawed my way through the army paratroopers and onto the navy clearance swimmers, and I created an amazing fulfilling life. So when I got attacked by the shark I realized I had two options: I could either roll over and die or make a choice to fight and have a great life.” 

It takes tremendous strength and discipline to endure the training that is required of Australian Navy clearance swimmers, and de Gelder credits his ability to perform under extreme conditions such as oxygen deprivation and severe pain as the reason he was able to survive the shark attack. His tough regimen of physical fitness and endurance helped build mental strength and is at the root of his decision to fight for his life. 

“I was lying in my hospital bed after the leg surgery thinking, 'Well what do I do now?'” He chose to fight to get his life back and decided that the only way to do it would be to keep to his regular routine. As a soldier and clearance diver, his days began with workout. “So I thought, 'Well I have nothing to do, so I’m going to start right now,'” says de Gelder. Two days after his having his leg amputated, de Gelder was doing one-arm chin-ups on the bar above his bed. “That was the start and it hasn’t stopped.”

Paul De Gelder ocean

Thanks to incredible advances in prosthetic technology, de Gelder is able to hit the gym as hard as the most dedicated of gym rats. Although he can’t do front squats with his right prosthetic leg, and he has to rotate though different prosthetic arms to be able to fully extend at his elbow for specific upper body workouts, de Gelder has found creative ways to train to evenly rebuild his muscles and physique and gain back his former strength. Today, he's back in the water, training new recruits as they rise through the ranks of the Australian Navy.

“Everyone wants a great life, so that’s what I chose.”

Tune in to Shark Week on the Discovery Channel for more about Paul de Gelder.


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