How Does it Feel to Be...

We tracked down 10 people who lived through the good and the bad, life experiences that ranged from life affirming to near death.

How Does it Feel to Be...

How Does it Feel to Be...

How Does it Feel to Be...

How Does it Feel to Be...

How Does it Feel to Be...

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."

..a winner at an auction.

"Finally! A boat I can afford." -Randy Firestein

"I thought it was going to be one of those local police auctions filled with junk. But it turned out to be run by the U.S. Marshal's Service with confiscated high-end toys from busted drug dealers."

"There were some go-fasts, and one caught my eye: an older Cigarette 38 with barnacles and busted drives. It looked like crap. The prior, recently arrested owner obviously didn't spend a lot of money keeping it up. But it was a Cigarette. Before the bidding started, I got to pull the spark plugs, which weren't especially dirty, and I saw no oil seeping between the gaskets. The bidding started at an astonishing $400, and quickly shot up to $1,000. At $1,500, the bidding began to slow, and when the auctioneer said 'Going…going…' I lost it and screamed, '$2,000!' He paused. 'Anyone else? Do I hear $2,500 for this boat driven only to Mexico by a little old cocaine runner on Sundays?' Silence. 'Sold!' I wrote the check, borrowed a trailer, and brought it home. The engines started right up, and I spent $1,800 to fix the drives. It runs okay, not great. But I now own a Cigarette that cost me only two grand. Can't beat that. Better yet, I have a boat with an interesting past and a great story about how I bought it."

...in a hurricane.

"It beats up your body and your brain." -Pat Hendricks

"The owner was taking his boat around the world. He was also trying to kick a heroin habit. The other fellow was Peter, a cook."

"North of Madagascar we got notice that a hurricane was coming. I started preparing the boat and myself mentally. There was tremendous thunder and lightning, and torrential rain. The waves were 40', 60' high. A couple of times I was waist-deep in water, which means the boat was submerged. Our only chance was a harbor a couple hundred miles away. After a day my fear went away. But I never got used to the noise, which was tremendous. It wears you out. Peter tried to make a meal. Stuff was flying in the galley, but he did it. I feel about him the way you feel about someone you've gone to war with. This was before GPS. Every 20 minutes the owner would come out of the cabin in a cloud of smoke, his red eyes looking around. Then he'd go below, light up another joint, and plot our position. I don't know how he did it, but he found that harbor. Seeing it was tremendously energizing. Soon we were going to be safe. Once inside, it was flat, calm. The contrast was amazing. The anchored tankers all blew their horns, knowing what we had been through. After we tied up, I left the boat. I always wonder what happened to Peter."

...caught smuggling.

"Having nothing to lose is liberating." -Jeffrey Spaulding

"We were running 2,200 pounds of pot and 5 gallons of hash oil to the lower Keys, from Andros in the Bahamas. I'd made the run hundreds of times before, but this one was way different."

"First, we got tagged by a Cuban patrol boat. What he was doing so far north has always left me wondering. Anyway, they're slow and easy to lose. A few hours later we heard choppers to the west. I stopped to drift but the bastard found us. I nailed it but the chopper hung off our stern. Real close, so we could see them. They turned on their spotlights and started making these hand signals that weren't exactly saying, 'Good luck and call us if you need help.' I thought about going back to the Bahamas, but we didn't have enough fuel. Then they started firing entanglers and stingballs at us. So I turned to the Keys and kept going, 'cause I'm like, 'Yeah, I got a ton of weed here and it ain't medicinal.' We start dumping dope to go faster. It was off Big Pine Key when one our outboards died. I still had enough speed to run it up on a mangrove swamp, about 50 yards away from a playground. We hopped out, but you can't run too fast across mangroves. They caught us. I'm doing 10 minimum, and the food sucks."

...a hero.

"I'm always glad when it's over." -Mario Vittone

"As a Coast Guard rescue swimmer, I'm literally the last guy you want to meet when you're on the water. It's usually also the last time you're going to see your boat, and you're not sure if you're going to live. "Before I jump in, there's a whole lot of variables I have to figure. So I sit, watch, and study for a long time. What are the winds? Are the waves breaking? Are they on the boat or off the boat? From a rescue swimmer's standpoint, you fly out there and hope you don't screw it up. You know you're it, the last hope. Until you get them in the helicopter it's all you. It's an overwhelming responsibility. Once in the water, you don't know if the victim is going to be cold or unable to move. I'm used to the rotor wash, they're not. I know how to get into the helicopter, they don't. They might be injured and unable to explain what's wrong. If I handle things improperly, I can make them worse. No matter what we hear before leaving, the case always turns out to be different. Straightforward rescues almost always turn into medical emergencies-exposure problems, hypothermia. But once everyone is in the helicopter, there's a rush of relief. It's over. I'm thankful and drained, but it's an absolute blast."

...going more than 200 mph.

"Like sitting in a fast cocktail shaker." -John Cosker

"The feeling is awesome. The horsepower is massive, thrilling-all 6,000 of it-packed into a 9,500-pound boat. Like riding a rocket."

"I'm throttleman on Miss Longlite, a 50' Mystic catamaran, and we were going for the record at the Lake of the Ozarks Shootout that's held every autumn. It's a one-mile course and the lake has a lot of waves that reflect from the coves, so it can get relatively rough. We got into some vibrations so bad I couldn't see the gauges. But compared to other times it was pretty smooth. You're in a helmet with an intercom, but you still hear the wind rushing over the canopy. Quite a roar at 200-plus. Mainly, though, you hear the turbines' high-pitched whine. This event took a lot of trimming to get the attitude just right. The whole length of the course, I'm trimming. You don't just nail it and hold on. All through the run, we knew this one felt right, all dialed in. Perfect. I knew it was good but didn't know how good until our crew radioed us. We held the course record of 203 mph from a couple of years before. Our goal was 205, so clocking in at 208 was icing on the cake."

...a test boat driver.

"After eight hours you're a little punchy." -Josh Johnson

"At 29, I'm a former Coastie and have been testing boats with Mercury for three years. It's great when the weather's nice, when it's sunny and there's not a lot of wind blowing. But that's not too often."

"We've had a lot of rain recently, and that takes the fun out of it. This is definitely a strenuous job. We don't just go out there and drive a boat. For some tests, we have specific requests, the tech guys tell us the exact way they want us to run our boats. We're taking an active part in making these motors better, and you can see the improvements. For most tests, it's a four-hour cycle with four different sections to it. Other times we do wide open testing. We'll run six, eight, nine hours a day flat out. You take a beating from that. Even so, you have to pay a lot of attention to the test gear and gauges. But a lot of the time it's boring, sometimes it just gets old. You have to take the good with the bad. This job isn't for everybody. I've seen more than 30 people come and go. But it's better than sitting behind a desk and doing paperwork. Yup, when it's beautiful out and you're running fast, there's nothing better."

...a record-holding angler.

"It was like a gift from God." -Adam Konrad

"It's the most amazing feeling when you see that fish come up and you think, 'This time it could be the one; this could go in the books.'"

"We had spent three hours casting with almost no action. I wasn't thinking much when I cast into this little back eddy, right along a dropoff. The fish must have been sitting there waiting for it. He jumped out 2', maybe 3' in the air, then dropped to about 20' deep and stayed there. The fight lasted about 45 minutes. When I got it up to the boat, the net was too small. So my brother Sean had to get his friend to hold on to his legs so he could cradle the fish with his arms. It was a huge rainbow trout, we measured it at 38". That's on 12-pound test line. The next day we brought it to a Safeway market. It was too heavy for their scales, so we took it to another store. When I saw the number, I couldn't believe it-33.3 pounds. If I had weighed it right out of the water, it would have been more. I had beat the old record by 3 pounds. It happened on July 8, 2006. I was born on July 10. That was one happy birthday."