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How Ali Truwit Turned a Life-Altering Attack Into an Inspiring Quest for Paralympic Glory

“In a flash, my life was almost taken from me. And, in a flash, I’m fighting to take it right back.”

The inspiring story of Paralympic swimmer Ali Truwit, who overcame a shark attack and will compete in the Paris 2024 Paralympic Games a little over one year later.
Credit-Ali Truwit/Holly Fischer/Joker Mag

It came out of nowhere.

“I had been snorkeling in that area many times, and nothing felt different that day.”

Ali Truwit was in Turks and Caicos with her former Yale swimming teammate, Sophie Pilkinton, to celebrate her college graduation.

But their leisurely day in the water took a turn.

All of a sudden, a large shark came darting toward them.

“It was aggressive,” Ali said. “It felt like it wanted to fight us.”

So the women fought back – punching, kicking, and pushing the shark away.

Ali looked down to see a growing red cloud around her leg.

“I was like, ‘Am I crazy, or do I not have a foot right now?'”

They cried out for help, but no one came.

So the pair swam 75 yards through the open water back to the boat – a trail of blood flowing behind them with the shark circling nearby.

“Swimming was the first thing that saved my life,” she told Kelly Clarkson, “and the second was my teammate Sophie.”

Once they climbed on board, Sophie immediately applied a tourniquet which slowed the bleeding and helped save Ali’s life.

“Without that training, I’m not sure we would have made it back to the boat in the open ocean,” Truwit said.

“In a story where a really unlucky thing happened, there was a lot of luck in who was around me.”

Ali was airlifted to the nearest trauma center 580 miles away in Miami, where she needed two emergency surgeries to fight infection.

Later, she was transported to New York where a doctor briefed her on what was about to happen.

A quote from Ali Truwit that says: "Some things I've lost, and I'll never get them back. And that's just my reality. But the things that I can get back, I'm going to fight for tooth and nail."

“He said, ‘Step one, I have to save your life,'” Ali’s father recalled. “‘Step two, I’m gonna try to save as much of your leg as possible.'”

On Ali’s 23rd birthday, doctors had to amputate her leg below the knee.

“Some things I’ve lost, and I’ll never get them back. And that’s just my reality,” Ali said.

“But the things that I can get back, I’m going to fight for tooth and nail.”

Swimming was Truwit’s first love, and she was determined to get back in the water.

But it wasn’t so simple.

“The last time I heard the sound of water, we were swimming for our lives. I remember the whole attack; I was conscious the whole time. So it was hard to even hear the sound of water again and not have flashbacks to the attack.”

Throughout her rehab, Ali started working out in the gym with friends and family members.

Then she got together with her old swim coach and slowly worked her way back into the pool.

Truwit is a lifelong athlete, but she questioned whether she’d ever be able to compete again.

Fortunately, her prosthetist knew exactly what Ali needed.

“He was like, ‘I have the perfect person to connect you with.’ And he was completely right.”

That person was Jessica Long, a legendary Paralympic swimmer with more than 50 world championship medals.

They spoke on the phone about life as an amputee and Ali’s potential future in the Paralympic Games. Jessica answered every question, helping Truwit adjust to her new life and transition into Para swimming.

“Her confidence and how she shows her prosthetics proudly outside of the pool gave me strength and self-acceptance…I’m lucky to have her in my life,” Ali said.

“And I could name so many more in Para swimming who’ve embraced me and really changed my trajectory in this first year as an amputee.”

The physical transition was just as tough as the mental one.

Per U.S. Paralympics Swimming: “Everything she did with two legs, from standing on the starting blocks to flips on the wall, Truwit’s had to learn to do with one. She’s also had to learn to compensate for the lower body imbalance by changing her breathing pattern and head and hip positions.”

Three months after the attack, Ali competed in her first Para swimming meet.

Suddenly, in a very short period of time, she was on the fast track. Her sights were set on her newest challenge – qualifying for the 2024 Paralympic Games.

It was a lofty goal.

Making the Paralympic team is difficult for the best athletes in the world – let alone someone still adjusting to the sport in their first year as an amputee.

“Of course, it’s really easy to sit and think, ‘Why did this happen to me?’ and be upset, and I’m working hard to focus on how I can make meaning of it and move forward, and this feels like a great way to do that.”

Ali’s hard work paid off.

In June of 2024 – just over a year since the attack – Ali Truwit clinched her spot to swim for Team USA at the Paralympics in Paris.

Against all odds, she accomplished her goal.

“In a flash, my life was almost taken from me. And, in a flash, I’m fighting to take it right back.”

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Written By

Division III baseball alum (McDaniel College) and founder of Joker Mag. Sharing underdog stories to inspire the next generation.

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