08/07/2006 at 01:00 AM EDT
Spearfishing earlier this summer in the Florida Keys, Olympic gold medalist swimmer Gary Hall Jr. bagged a snapper weighing more than 15 lbs. "I wanted to eat this one for dinner," says Hall, 31, who was out that day with his sister Bebe, 28. But the Halls weren't the only ones delighted by the catch—or who had food on their minds. Looking around, they spotted a blacktip reef shark prowling below. "My heartbeat is going a million miles an hour," says Bebe, who helps run the swim academy in Florida founded by her brother. "I said, 'Gary, drop the snapper!'"
But Gary, an experienced spearfisherman, insisted they could make it back to their boat 250 yards away. With blood from the snapper dripping into the water, another reef shark, this one about 6 ft., suddenly bit Bebe on the arm. Then it turned on Gary. "It was in a frenzy mode, with its back arched, and it was thrashing," he says. Bebe recalls thinking, "If he bites him right now, I'm going to be looking at the inside of my brother's stomach." Instead the shark again turned toward Bebe, who had reloaded her speargun. As the shark attacked, jaws open, she took aim. "It felt like it swam right up onto my spear," she says. "I made sure I got it inside the jaws, and then I let go of the sling. I could feel it hit the back of the shark's throat." The blacktip, streaming blood, swam off. Frightened at the time, Gary was later philosophical: "Life is as exciting as you make it," he says. "I'd much rather die by shark attack than in some nursing home."