After the scare that Chuck Anderson had on the beach last summer, most people would steer clear of any water that didn't come out of a faucet or shower head.
But Anderson, who lost much of his right arm in a shark attack last summer, just finished his 53rd triathlon — his first time back in the ocean since the attack.
As the 47-year-old high school coach and assistant principal crossed the finish line of the Flora-Bama Mullet Man Triathlon Sunday morning, he pumped his left arm into the air in victory.
"It was a challenge I was going to meet," Anderson told ABCNEWS' Good Morning America. Early on, I figured out that all it would take would be time, effort and energy and the only person to stop me would be myself."
Surviving a Surprise Attack
Last summer, Anderson and his friend Richard Watley were training for the triathlon about 100 feet off the beach at Alabama's Gulf Shores. Suddenly, they were struck by what was believed to be a 6-foot bull shark, weighing an estimated 180 pounds.
"I felt this blow, I came up and a shark was attacking me," Anderson said. "First it took off my fingers, then it attacked my midsection, and then my right arm went right into the shark's mouth."
The shark dragged him across the ocean floor for about a minute, and then laid on top of him on a sandbar. Anderson hit the shark with his left arm, and struggled to get his right arm out of the shark's mouth. Finally he did: his hand and wrist were gone, and only bony remnants of his forearm remained.
Losing his arm at the elbow likely helped save his life, however.
Anderson managed to make it back to shore, where someone tied a shirt into a tourniquet to slow his blood loss. The father of two willed himself to remain conscious and make it to the hospital, so his children would not find him there unconscious.
Watley was less seriously injured, with puncture wounds on his hip and arm, but no bone damage.
It was the first recorded shark attack so close to the beach in Alabama, and the second confirmed attack ever in Alabama waters.
Practicing What He Preached
Anderson, who lives in Robertsdale, Ala., had 52 triathlons under his belt and won 37 Clydesdale heavyweight age-group titles before the shark attack. But things had to be different for his 53rd.
The event on the Alabama coast included a 400-yard swim in Old River between Ono Island and Perdido Key, a 15-mile bicycle ride and a 4-mile run.
To ready himself for the rigorous challenge, Anderson and his physical therapist, Jennifer Davis, altered his prosthesis into a swim paddle for the swim portion. He traded the artificial fin for another prosthetic arm before getting onto the bike.
In making his comeback, Anderson took the advice he always gives to the teams he coaches: Overcome your obstacles and don't give up.
He trained two hours and 20 minutes a day from September to February to get his elbow moving, because it was stiff. He also had a torn rotator cuff and very little movement in his shoulders.
The toughest part of the race was the bike leg because he needed to maintain balance. Getting back in the salt water was daunting too, and he felt uncomfortable when others were not close by.
And finishing was emotional.
He shaved four minutes off his time over last year. Now his goal is to perform even better and return to the top of his category.