Paul de Gelder
Paul de Gelder's life changed forever on the morning of 11 February 2009 when he fell victim to a rare shark attack in Sydney Harbour, within sight of the city's famous Opera House and Harbour Bridge landmarks. Paul's experiences in overcoming adversity, obstacles and pre-judgements have already inspired many Australians. His ability to motivate and inspire others while acknowledging the importance of family and friends has created a significant demand among many more Australians wanting to hear his story.
As a clearance diver with the Royal Australian Navy, Paul was testing some new counterterrorism devices early in the morning when he felt a strong knock to the leg and, upon looking down, came face-to-face with a three-metre bull shark.
"My first reaction was to go for the eye ball but my right hand was also encompassed in the shark's mouth and I couldn't get it free. I then tried to jab it in the eye with my left hand but it had me on such an angle that I couldn't reach it. I tried to push its nose off me but that only served to push the teeth of its lower jaw even further into my flesh. Finally I punched its nose, but it shook me and took me underwater before disappearing quickly.
By this time the safety boat was on its way after hearing the commotion, so I started swimming freestyle towards it. That was when I noticed my hand was missing. I desperately started swimming side stroke keeping my injured arm out of the water."
After spending two-days in and out of consciousness, Paul took the decision to remove his left leg but, with the help of prosthetic limbs, he continues to lead an active, motivated and busy lifestyle.
The Australian military mantra of IMPROVISE. ADAPT. OVERCOME continues to be a guiding force.
Paul chased adventure wherever he could find it, from his wild ride as a hoodlum teen and his drug-and-alcohol fuelled stint working in a strip club to hauling his way up to the elite echelons of the defence forces. Drawing on everything his eventful life had taught him, Paul left nothing to chance in his recovery. He fought through excruciating pain, smashing challenge after challenge, and amazing the medical staff with his will to succeed. His inspiring story takes 'never say die' to a whole new level.
Paul is back at work on a full-time basis and also expects to be back diving permanently very soon. He has already been diving with sharks, in a very public return to the water that was filmed for 'Sixty Minutes'. Since the attack, he has also raced a Porsche, skydived, returned to surfing with the aid of a waterproof leg and is in the gym pumping out 20 chin-ups and 50 push-ups.
Paul's experiences in overcoming adversity, obstacles and pre-judgements have already inspired many Australians. His ability to motivate and inspire others while acknowledging the importance of family and friends has created a significant demand among many more Australians wanting to hear his story.