Whether you’re 5 or 85, a normal day can turn out to be one of your most memorable.
Octogenarian Lois Kennedy was lying in bed when she heard a neighbour shout for help. Her reflexes took control as she grabbed the nearest weapon – her plastic hearth brush – and ran towards a sword-wielding attacker.
Eric Janssen had completed more than 100 skydives when he became tangled in his parachute cords while freefalling at 250 kilometres an hour.
Mike Aston was trekking in the Amazon when he was stung by an ant considered to have the most painful sting in the insect world.
Vaughan Hill was 23 and diving for paua when he won the battle but lost an arm against a white pointer shark off the coast of Pitt Island.
At 5 years old, Cooper Marsh hasn’t lived long enough for any such adventures, so his first week at primary school was a big deal. In fact, it was so tiring he took a nap on his second day.
No matter what you consider to be extraordinary, take a walk in these people’s shoes and discover something new.
HOW DOES IT FEEL...
... to be bitten by a shark?
VAUGHAN HILL, Timaru
I was a commercial fisherman – paua, crayfish, kinas. At that time I was doing paua. It was September 1996. It was about 7.30am and just coming daylight.
You’re free-diving. So I filled a kit bag with paua and came up. We had a new boat boy and I knew he would be a bit shy about coming into shallow water, so I swam out to him, gave him my dive bag and he gave me an empty one.
I might have been in about 15 feet of water, I was getting near the end of my breath and I felt a smack on my right side. I looked up, there was no cod, the water was a bit murky.
As I headed towards the surface I looked around and there was a dirty big set of eyeballs and jaws looking back at me. I knew it was a white pointer. I was looking straight into its mouth and its eye. The eye was just going grey. When I saw it shut, I looked up to see how far I had to go to the surface, because I knew I had to get some air to fight this thing. As I went towards the surface blood was already overtaking me. Blood floats in the water.
I think the shark got the reaction he wanted, whether he picked up on my heart rate or whatever. He thought: ‘‘I’ll have that’’.
I blacked out. My last thought was: ‘‘I need more air.’’ But when I came to I had all the air in the world because I’d broken the surface. Then my first thought was: ‘‘Where the hell’s that shark?’’
I wasn’t aware of the damage. I wasn’t feeling any pain. I couldn’t see it, so I yelled out to the boat boy then looked for the shark again. The longer I was in the water, the more panicky I got.
I went to yell again but my voice got really weak. The boat was coming across slowly. I lunged for it but both my arms just failed.
The paua hook fell out of my right hand, I tried to get it, I mean, you don’t lose the tool of your trade do you? But my hand wouldn’t grab it. That was weird. And I couldn’t grab the boat boy.
I blacked out again and next thing I was lying on the deck of the boat. I came to and they were radioing for help. I came to again and we were on a fast fishing boat with a motor revving its guts out. My dive buddy was sitting at my head. I thought that was the end. I said a quick hooray to him and told him to say goodbye to my partner and new baby. He said: ‘‘You can tell them yourself.’’ Then I came to on Pitt Island and they’d flown a doctor from the Chathams over to us.
The wetsuit sort of held me all together. I think the shark must have come in and clamped down, the cuts suggest he was shaking.
My right arm got amputated above the elbow. I think it must have hit an artery straightaway. My left arm has got only 30 per cent function, I think I must have been using it to fend it off.
I used to think about it too much and let things get to me a wee bit, especially on those days when my left hand was being pig-headed. I think about it less now because I’ve been fully occupied with the big move to Timaru and with my daughter, who helps me endlessly.
I’ve tried prosthetics, but they’ve been more of a hassle. I think if I won Lotto I’d be going to the States to get the latest artificial limbs.
I’m dead against shark cage diving. I think people doing that are educating sharks to come close to people. But as much as I’m against it, I’d like to try it once. Just to face a shark again.
... to plummet towards Earth as your parachute fails?
ERIC JANSSEN, Wellington
I was living in Pretoria in South Africa at the time. It was about the mid-1990s.
I’d taken up skydiving. Once you’ve done a few where the chute opens automatically, you go on to freefall, where you pull the cord yourself. That first one is the most frightening because you realise if you don’t do it, no-one will.
I was at the point where I was entirely comfortable. Normally you’re supposed to get yourself into what’s called the stable position, which is when you are going at your lowest speed and that’s usually when you open your chute.
Usually we’d jump from about 5000 feet, but for a few bucks more the pilot would ask if we wanted to go to 10,000ft. So that’s what we did. It gives you more freefall time.
So there I was, in a tuck position, making myself go as fast as possible, screaming towards Earth at about 250 kilometres an hour. I was wearing an altitude-meter. You should check it and try to have your chute open by 2000ft. You don’t need that much, but you would rather have space up your sleeve. I was rocketing and noticed it had frozen at 4500ft. I knew that I was far lower than that, but I had no idea what my altitude was. I should have taken the time, slowed down and got into the stable position, but I didn’t.
I pulled the cord and the chute literally pulls you back up. At the speed I was travelling at, it flipped me. I did a somersault in the air. Now my legs were caught in the lines. I had about three cords around my right leg.
If you have a problem with your chute – it might be that it doesn’t open but all the lines are clear – you would cut it away and deploy your emergency chute. But here I was with my leg through the lines and the chute above me. I couldn’t cut away because the lines were wrapped too tightly around my leg and I could not open my emergency chute because it would become tangled with the original.
I’ve never thought of myself as much of a contortionist, but suddenly I was. I managed to get the lines clear and the cells filled up with air and suddenly I was flying happily again. I must have had altitude on my side.
Did it last 10 seconds? Did it last 20 seconds? I don’t know. But I knew I was only going to get one stab at it. It’s one of those strange things, at the time you don’t think about what could happen, but afterwards you get the shakes.
That day, I packed up fast and went straight to the bar. That was when it struck me how close it could have been.
I got back on the horse and did another couple of months of jumping, then I took a break. Then I went back for what would have been my 123rd jump and I was up in the plane when I suddenly thought: ‘‘I don’t want to do this.’’
It wasn’t dramatic. I just didn’t want to jump out of that plane on that day. I went back down with the pilot and never went again.
Now I’m starting to get the bug again.
... to start school?
COOPER MARSH, Christchurch
I started near Christmas when I was 5. It’s St Albans School.
We have to do stuff all day – eating and then playing. We only get food two times, I think. And milk. There are nine people in my class. I’ve got a new friend called Cole. I normally see my friend Cole and play with him, but he always wants to play with his brother. Oh, he only did that one time really.
I have sisters there and it’s good ’cos I can see them at playtime.
I’ve got a really nice teacher. Her name is Mrs Sutherland.
I had a sleep with a teddy on the second day ’cos I got tired.
It was a very big sunny day. At the end of the day, we do this thing and I forgot what it’s called, oh, ‘‘Reflection’’. It’s where you have to hold a reflection bubble and you have to think and say your favourite bit of the day. I always say playing in the pool, but I like playing in the playground, eating, running and painting as well. And then you have little jobs to do and get your bag and go.
... to be stung by one of the world’s most poisonous insects?
MIKE ASTON, Kapiti Coast
I was staying near a tributary of the Amazon River last year, looking for an adventure. We had two guides, one was called Sergio and he spoke no English.
On the first day, at about 8am, we were on a trail in the jungle when the other guide stopped. He said: ‘‘You do not want to get stung by one of these.’’
He showed us a sizeable ant and a few of its mates. They weren’t small. Probably about twice the size of your thumbnail. He said they were called bullet ants and if you were unlucky enough to be stung you would feel severe pain for up to three days and there had been reports of people hallucinating after they’d been stung.
About five minutes later: Ow! I grabbed my arm and, just above my elbow, I’d been bitten by something that stung like hell. It was only 45 minutes into our first day in the jungle.
I told the guys. Sergio found a bullet ant on my backpack. I wondered if I was going to break into a cold sweat or start hallucinating. The pain was quite intense and the area around the sting had grown to the size of about two 50-cent pieces. Sergio snapped the ant in two and rubbed the back end of it on me. I’m not sure why, it might have just been a ritual, but then he found some sort of plant and applied that to my arm.
After about two hours the pain subsided. The guides were busy finding multi-coloured frogs and various bugs for everyone to look at, but after that I was vigilant about anything and everything that was around me.
It was like a really intense double bee sting, a deep, throbbing pain. I could still feel it the next morning. After a full 24 hours it eventually ebbed away.
If it wasn’t for Sergio, I would have had severe pain for three days and possibly hallucinated. If you’re going to get lost or stung in the jungle, you want this guy with you.
... to fend off a sword-wielding attacker?
LOIS KENNEDY, Christchurch
It was January, 2010. I was living in a council flat in Woolston, it was very nice. I loved it there.
I was lying in bed at 5 o’clock in the morning and I heard this voice call out: ‘‘Lois, Lois, help me.’’
Well, I just got out of bed. When somebody wants help you go, don’t you? I grabbed the hearth brush, because it was the nearest thing I had, and I ran out.
Because it was so early in the morning, it was dark and, with my eyes, I can’t really see anyway. I could just make out shapes [a man was attacking his mother], so I was blindly whacking him.
I wasn’t frightened, I was angry at the murderous bastard. He had a knife in his hand. I felt it with my thumb, it was quite big.
[At this point son Barry interrupts to remind his mother that the ‘‘knife’’ was actually a samurai sword.]
If I had known about the sword, perhaps I wouldn’t have run at him like that, but I didn’t know. I just ran outside with the brush.
It must have been adrenaline because I walk with a frame. I don’t even go to the letterbox without it, so it must have been adrenaline because I ran, on my own. Adrenaline does strange things to you.
Somehow, I finally decided I wasn’t doing any good, so I went inside and rang the police. When they came, I got back in bed and had a cup of tea.
I didn’t think anything much at the time. People congratulated me and it was all very nice for a while, but time moves on. I guess I just had a reaction.
My family gave me a hard time and said I could have been hurt, but when somebody needs help you just go. You don’t think of your own safety.
If something was happening to me I think it would be quite nice to get some help.