You can daydream and wonder all you like. But we tracked down 10 people who lived through the good and the bad, life experiences that ranged from life affirming to near death. They've endured things most of us can't imagine. Want to know what it was like? So did we. So we asked them.
...bitten by a shark.
"Pain, worse than you can imagine." -Erich Ritter
"As a shark behaviorist studying what triggers sharks to bite, I occasionally get nipped by my subjects. But this time I lost a leg."
"I was standing in hip-deep water, surrounded by bull sharks. It started with a bump, nothing unusual. The first bite was a tight hold on my left calf, painful but manageable. Then the shark bit me a second time. The pain was incredible, I've never felt anything like that before-or since. It jolted through my body. Everything seemed to slow down, and my awareness increased more than ever. Meanwhile, the shark was holding on to my leg, making toward deep water with me in its jaws. I knew I had to get my other leg back on the firm ground, or I'd be dragged off to drown. Going against my natural instinct to stay upright, I let myself drop. My right leg touched the bottom and I stood up with everything I had. At the same time I lifted the bitten leg as high as I could. It worked. The shark let go, but it took my entire lower leg muscles and fibula with it. When I saw the damage, and the artery pumping blood out of me, I knew I had about two hours left to live. But I made it, and was back in the water with sharks five months later."
...a Weeki Wachee mermaid.
"It's fun, but you feel like a prune." -Marcy Terry
"I started in 1997, taking a break to get married and have a baby. But I couldn't wait to put my fish tail back on. "Right now, we have about 15 mermaids. You either stay and love it, or leave right away. We put on underwater shows for kids who dream of being the Little Mermaid. What could be better? The shows are in an underwater theater that is part of a natural spring. The audience watches us through windows 16' down. We're all scuba certified, but there are no tanks, just hidden air hoses. You grab a hose with a nozzle, turn it on, and take a deep breath. But you have to take just the right amount-too much air and you have to fight to stay down. It's not easy seeing without a mask, although the spring water doesn't hurt your eyes, and it's hard to keep in place with the 5-mph current. The water is about 72 degrees, so we only stay in for 45 minutes a show. Beyond that and you're too cold to keep smiling. Mermaids smile a lot. To make it, you have to love being in the water and learn how to swim with both legs in a fish suit. It's a lot better than wearing the kind of suit other professionals put on each day."
...on a life raft after your boat has sunk.
"I never felt so small, so alone." -Steve Callan
"There was a big bang on the side of the boat. Probably a whale, it could have been debris. It was night, so I'll never know."
"I was lying down below and the water began rushing in like a river. I leapt up, ran out of the cabin, and launched the life raft. The boat went down nose first but developed air lock in the stern. This gave me a chance to climb back aboard and get some gear. I keep a ditch bag with a solar still, paper, pencil, charts, fishing kit, knives, and a short speargun. There were some large waves and I was getting pounded. Being hit with one was like being in a car wreck. The life raft was tied to the boat. I wanted to stay attached as long as possible so I'd be easier to spot. But before daylight the raft broke away from the boat and I drifted off. At first, there was a lot of activity that kept my mind busy. Part of me was mourning the loss of the boat. Then, there's the drill. You know, the drill on how you're going to stay alive. Your life starts going by your eyes like a boring B-grade movie. I've heard this referred to as the 'recall stage.' It lasted about two weeks. I drifted for another nine."