'The biggest thing for me is I wasn't afraid to fail': Story of survival after shark attack
PyeongChang: Sean Pollard is one Paralympian who can easily put the reality of a bit of bad luck in competition into perspective.
Need a reminder how your life can alter in a matter of minutes? Polland’s story of survival fits the bill. Not much more than three years ago the Western Australian was a strapping young athlete who enjoyed footy and surfing.
But then came a day and a moment that will define him forever. Pollard was surfing at a remote WA beach in October 2014 when he was attacked by not one, but two great white sharks.
As he fended off the two predators, Pollard lost his right arm and his left hand. Losing the use of two limbs was effectively the only way he escaped the grasp of the killers of the sea.
Most remarkably, Pollard somehow found his way 150m back to shore. There, without the intervention of four incredible people on the beach, he faced near-certain death.
The 26-year-old has previously spoken publicly about his ordeal at Kelp Beds Beach at Wylie Bay but now, a couple of years down the track and competing at PyeongChang in snowboarding, Pollard prefers not to relive the gruesome details.
His story is compelling and jaw-dropping. He’s had to handle international media interest, answering questions after finishing a credible ninth in his opening snowboard cross event.
"I was surfing in 2014 and I lost both my left arm and my right hand in a shark attack in Esperance," Pollard replied to one question.
"It was a pretty heavy situation and I've kind of moved past it now, trying to focus on the future."
Pollard is a poignant reminder of how an individual can experience significant trauma, or life-changing circumstances, and somehow find a new path thanks to the Paralympics.
It was after months of painstaking rehabilitation that the double amputee was on a holiday with friends when he tried snowboarding for the first time.
In an opportune moment, he was approached by the head coach of the Canadian para-snowboard team who talked up his possibilities. Upon returning home and excited by the prospect of returning to sport, Pollard contacted the Australian Paralympic Committee and was invited to attend a camp for para-snowboarders with upper limb impairments.
Pollard has made rapid progress in the sport since and was desperately unlucky not to finish higher than ninth after finishing just 0.13 seconds behind opponent Italian Jacopo Luchini in their sudden-death race.
Pollard, you see, can’t use his hands to push off at the starting gate. He’s forced to start his race with his snowboard sideways, putting him at an immediate disadvantage in some races.
"I worked on this in training, and the best way for me to get out is to have my board sideways so I can put the edge in and then I kind of jump out and I just use my arm for balance, rather than pushing out," Pollard said.
"So I'm essentially starting out sideways and jumping out straight.
"It puts me to the back of the pack straight away. But that's the sport and I wouldn't whinge about it."
Impressively, the Australian made up significant ground against Luchini before patiently waiting for his time to pounce. Pollard momentarily got his board in front, there was contact between the pair near the finish but he was pipped by little more than one-tenth of a second.
"I kind of played it safe through the top section because it's a bit tricky through there, stepped on it through the bottom and almost got him," Pollard said.
"I definitely feel like there's room for improvement. I've only been snowboarding for almost three years now, so it's not long. It's definitely a journey."
Having stared down death and come out the other side, Pollard – a quietly-spoken former electrician – has plain and simple advice for others who have to overcome trauma.
"You've got to keep trying. I think the biggest thing for me is I wasn't afraid to fail. It took me six months before I could put socks on again," Pollard said.
As for the inevitable publicity, however, Pollard said: "I doesn't really sit too well with me. I'd rather just do my own thing and work away on my own goals than shout from the rooftop.
"It's nice to get a bit of recognition now though because I've put the hard work in."
At another time Pollard did have the composure to describe his encounter in the ocean, when the first shark had multiple attempts at attacking him.
"Its eye was like the blackest black I’ve ever seen," he told 60 Minutes three years ago.
"I just felt this massive big bump and the shark come underneath me.
"It took me like across and I was like – its eye was right there in front of me – both my arms in its mouth and in just took me under water.
"That’s when I got bumped by another shark."
Then there's this from one of his four rescuers on the beach that fateful day.
“The graphic injury of his left arm is something you don’t want to see again,” Ross Tamlin told the Nine program.
Thankfully, for Pollard, it’s all in the past, and he’s busy now writing new chapters in his life.