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Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Gary Hall Jr., An Olympian In More Ways Than One

Courtesy of WOWSA, Huntington Beach, California.

While the eyes of the sporting world are on the athletes at the 2012 London Olympic Games, the eyes of former Olympians are also zeroed in on the nail-biting races in London.

If you want to see Olympic heroes and heroines of the past, head to London where hundreds of alumni of Olympics of years past gather. Some are hired announcers; some are representatives of corporations; some are consultants to various organizations; some come on their own as fans.

One of the most intriguing and interesting personalities in Olympic history present in London is Gary Hall Jr., the 10-time American swimming sprinter.

Hall is known for the ambiance that he brought to the pool deck. Colorful, personable, and unique were a few of the adjectives that describe the fun-loving Olympic champion who famously appeared on the Olympic pool deck with a boxing robe.

But Hall also proven himself to be visionary, compassionate and heroic out of the pool in his post-Olympic career.

As a Type 1 diabetic, Hall has been a passionate spokesman of public health initiatives and an advocate for research in the field of diabetes. He has advised many corporate boards and government committees on the topic, speaking eloquently on possible solutions and ongoing research to help stem the diabetes problem faced by children and adults alike.

Hall also was an early advocate of incorporating open water swimming training with his traditional pool swimming workouts. "I probably trained in the open water 60-65% of the time between the 2000 and 2004 Olympics. I definitely think open water swimming training helped my career."

And while Hall is viewed as an Olympic hero, he also became one in real life.

It is interesting and inspirational to learn how outside the Olympics, athletes like Hall also become real-life heroes who find themselves in unexpected situations during unexpected times.

Back in 2007 the co-founder of the Race Club was spear-fishing in the Florida Keys with his sister, Bebe Hall, when they encountered by a 6-foot black tip reef shark.

The siblings were diving when Hall speared a large snapper. Out of the corner of her eye, Bebe spotted a large reef shark, so they decided to quickly head back to their boat. Thinking wisely, Hall held the snapper out of the water while kicking on his back. Bebe whose heart started to beat like never before kept a wary eye on the shark that began circling.

The shark dove and they momentarily lost sight of the shark.

Suddenly, Bebe felt a bump on her shoulder. Unobserved, a second - and larger - shark had been attracted to the two swimmers. Bebe turned and saw the shark's head at her shoulder, then it turned and was swimming between Gary's legs as he furiously kicked away in an attempt to get away.

Hall began yelling at Bebe to reload the spear. She reloaded, but with the shark between herself and her brother, she had to make a decision. She knew that if she missed the shark, she would shoot her brother...so she waited.

Then, just like the movies and every open water swimmer's worse fear, the shark turned toward Bebe. But this was not Hollywood, this was a real-life emergency. Bebe, focused but shaking, shot the oncoming shark with her spear gun. Bullseye! The spear hit the shark straight on. Then she pulled out the spear knowing there were more than one shark, but that she only had this one bit of defense. The shark swam away as the two swimmers reached their boat - and safety.

"It was a scary experience, but we made it," recalled Hall. "Another shark, larger than the first one we saw, came in from another direction and hit my sister on her arm. Because of everything that was going on so suddenly, I didn’t even realize she had been bit before the shark started to head towards me. I started to kick it and punch it as a reflex."

"The shark was thrashing and had its back arched when it came at me. I punched it in the nose and tried to kick it off me, but kept coming. I was able to get underneath it and tried to roll it off of me. But that is when it charged toward my sister. She had already been bit, but she had enough sense to load the spear. All this is happening so fast, but when the shark charged at her with its mouth open, she was able to shoot it. The shark was injured and it swam off. Otherwise, with her bleeding as much as she was, it really could have been disastrous."

When they returned to the boat, Hall made a sling and used it as a tourniquet for Bebe’s arm. Hall was later recognized by USA Swimming and received the 2007 Adolf Keifer Safety Commendation Award.

Copyright © 2012 by World Open Water Swimming Association

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