Shark Attack Survivor Tells All About His Journey to Acceptance and Revival

Life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you are going to get. This line from the movie Forrest Gump is just about one of the most accurate descriptions of life. However, it is not always about what you get, it is about what you do with it. Omar Abdelkader, a 26-year-old engineer, fitness coach at Ignite, adaptive athlete who won first place at Elfit Crossfit competition in 2018 and also shark attack survivor, sets a great example for how one can survive, reinvent themselves and not let anything stop them. Pushing himself to his farthest limits, he managed to achieve many accomplishments in such little time, and he lives to inspire others through his work and Social Media. We interviewed Omar and he told us about his inspirational journey, and how he rose back after a devastating shark attack. 

Tell us about the incident, where and how it happened?

Tree years ago I was swimming in Ain El Sokhna and I felt that something hit me, and it turned out to be a shark that attacked me. After 3 or 4 minutes in the water, my leg was detached but I managed to survive. 

Why do you call yourself a Shark Slayer?

Part of it comes from the movie Shark Tale, and the other part is that my friends called me a Shark Slayer after the incident, because I managed to escape the sharks and scare one of them off. 

How did you recover from the incident? And what is the thing that helped you the most in surviving and overcoming the trauma?

There were many stages; the first one was acceptance. And part of it was to swim again and accept what happened to me. Another part of it was to accept and deliver a concept to my family that I was going to be a different person. I am not going to try to be the same person I was, but instead, I am going to take this opportunity to be someone different. I was given the chance to be someone unique. I rationalized it, and it helped me move on. Working out and staying physically active helped me a lot as well and it still does. 

Tell us about your work at Ignite and your coaching sessions. How are you able to coach and what are the challenges you face?

I was looking for a place to work out, and someone recommended Ignite. It was June 2017. I began as a trainee for almost a year, and I was very dedicated. Then I joined them as an assistant coach, and then as a coach. It was challenging, because some movements I may not be able to do, but I use verbal cues to overcome this or demonstrate on another coach. For me, what makes me happy is the little things, like when someone asks for my schedule because they loved my session so much. 

How did this change your perspective on living?

We need to appreciate things we take for granted. Now I appreciate my leg more; I don’t take many things for granted. 

Do you still dive and do other water activities?

Yes, I still swim and enjoy water activities, but cautiously. 

Many experience traumatic incidents and cannot continue with their lives, even without suffering any physical loss, what would be your advice to them? 

People worry about little things too much. People who experienced trauma have to find things that make them happy and seek professional help. Find something you are passionate about instead of overthinking whatever happened to you. Some told me that I took the hard option, for me it was the only option. 

Do you think our social circle is accepting of diversity more than it was a decade ago? Yes, but we still need much more awareness. Many adaptive athletes deserve more attention and spotlight from the media. 

In your opinion, which disability-related NGOs do you admire in Egypt? And why?

I believe Helm, they are doing a good job; they try to raise awareness and that is great. 

As a diversity ambassador/influencer on Social Media, what is your daily role to influence and inspire?

I’m not the most planned person; I’m more spontaneous, but for a purpose. It’s my cause to let people know that we as adaptive athletes are here. I try to show this on Social Media and inspire people with the same experience as mine by posting videos while exercising. Anything mental or physical that I know might help, I share it. 

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