Courtesy of WOWSA, Alenuihaha Channel, Hawaii.

What does it take to get bitten by a shark and then go right into the same water and swim again?

It takes something special. Very, very special.

Open water swimmers like Penny Palfrey and Olympic gold medalist Gary Hall, Jr. and many others have encountered sharks in their ocean swims and channel crossings.

But swimmers like Charlotte Brynn, Steven Robles and Michael Spalding have actually been encountered – and bitten – by sharks and then returned to the same waters to swim in them.

Spalding has seen it all during his nine channel crossings throughout the state of Hawaii*, including the bite taken out of his calf by a deep-water-inhabiting cookie cutter shark during his channel swim in the Alenuihaha Channel swim from the Big Island of Hawaii to Maui.

After his hospitalization and mental reset, Spalding returned to attempt another Alenuihaha Channel swim.

But it was not easy. “I wanted to spend as little time as possible in the dark, especially off the Big Island where I was bitten, because I was a little paranoid about that. I didn’t want to get bitten twice.”

While Spalding has encountered Portuguese Man-o-War stings, huge surf, towering ocean swims, relentless sun during his nighttime and daytime crossings, it was a chunk of missing flesh and muscle has most spook him – especially when he encountered a second shark on his second attempt.

Eventually, he successfully crossed the 32-mile Alenuihaha Channel from the island of Hawaii (Upolu Point) to the island of Maui (Nu’u Bay) in 19 hours 43 minutes. “The winds started out very calm, but it started to build later in the day reaching 20 knots by mid-afternoon as he approach Maui,” said fellow marathon swimmer Linda Kaiser. “By sunset, the winds dropped back to light. Mike encountered an 8-foot oceanic white tip shark about ten miles from the start.”

Spalding and his crew could be forgiven if they thought the worse and chose to get out. But he didn’t. Spalding ignored the fact that he was previously gored by a cookie cutter shark and forged on, but the encounter was a massive scare.

Mike had the shark at his toes. He was headed for the ladder, but the shark turned before Mike touched the ladder. Mike just hung in the water at the ladder and watched while the shark cruised by. Then the shark left and Mike continued on. But the shark returned and the crew watched it as this time it just hovered around,” recalled Kaiser who was on the Kialoa (which means long, light and swift) escort boat with a crew of five.

The shark chased him around a bit and then left, but returned a short time later. All hands kept a close eye on it and the shark eventually left.

But all was not clear yet. Not with Spalding and his luck. “About 6 miles from the finish, Mike got tangled in a big Portugese man o war. Despite being in extreme pain and experiencing stomach cramps with spasms in his right leg, Mike characteristically decided it would hurt worse to get out than to continue.”

As he entered Nu’u Bay on the Maui side, Spalding’s ordeal was not over. He faced an outgoing tide, but hit full throttle when a ‘soft sausage-like fish’ grabbed his arm. Flushed with adrenaline, he picked up his pace and sprinted the last mile to shore.

With his last sprint, Spalding became the fourth person to swim Alenuihaha Channel and the second person (along with his friend and fellow channel swimmer Linda Kaiser) to successfully cross all nine major channels in the state of Hawaii (inclusive of both solo swims and relays).

*26-mile Kaiwi (Molokai-Oahu) Channel + 8.8-mile Auau (Maui-Lanai) Channel + 9.3-mile Kalohi (Lanai-Molokai) Channel + 7-mile Alalakeii (Kahoolawe-Maui) Channel + 8.4-mile Pailolo (Maui-Molokai) Channel + 17-mile Kaulakahi (Kauai-Niihau) Channel + 17-mile Kealaikahiki (Kahoolawe-Lanai) Channel + 32-mile Alenuihaha (Hawaii-to-Maui) Channel + 72-mile Kaieiewaho Channel (Oahu-Kauai) on a 6-person relay.

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