RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
Let's go now to the south of France for another story of athletic triumph. We're about to meet a surfer who endured a horrific shark attack. And despite losing a leg, he's now more active than ever. Here's Emma Jacobs.
EMMA JACOBS, BYLINE: At the indoor skate park in Marseille, Eric Dargent stands out for two reasons. One, at 37, he is about two decades older than the rest of the people on skateboards and bicycles. The other is that the shorts he wears for skateboarding reveal his prosthetic leg. It's been four years since Dargent lost his leg surfing when he was attacked by a shark, and he's happy to demonstrate it hasn't slowed him down.
ERIC DARGENT: The difficulty of this sport - when you surf, if you do a mistake, you fall in the water, and it's no more pain. But in skating, it's very difficult for this.
JACOBS: Dargent always loved surfing, even after the accident which took place while he was on vacation on an island in the Indian Ocean. He spent three weeks in the hospital after the attack, during which he was allowed just one outing. He and his wife went to a beach, a long narrow strip shaded by tall trees.
DARGENT: And when I see the ocean, I say to my wife, it's incredible because when I see the water, I want to go back in the water.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Speaking French).
JACOBS: Today, his wife, standing in the kitchen of their home outside Marseille, says she hoped it would remain just a wish. Dargent returned here to begin his rehabilitation. His leg had been removed above the knee which makes recovering a full range of movement a lot more difficult.
DARGENT: I search on the Internet if other persons surf like me, and I find other person who are amputee under the knee but not above the knee.
JACOBS: His first doctor told him he would never surf. He consulted others. Finally one prosthetist, also an amputee, told him he didn't know if it was possible, but that he would do everything he could to help.
DARGENT: I surfing before walking (laughter).
JACOBS: Is that true?
DARGENT: Yeah. I think it's - I walk in the same time I surf, yeah.
JACOBS: He was back on a surfboard in three-and-a-half months. Walking took four or five.
JACOBS: In his garage, Dargent has a collection of surfboards and modified prosthetic knees and feet for different activities. His first foot for surfing has what looks like part of a rubber flip-flop glued to the bottom for traction. Since his first early experiments at modifying his mechanical knee, developing better prosthetics for amputees to surf has become his main activity along with raising money to buy people the expensive equipment.
DARGENT: It's not only sport, but I think its passion. You can do - if your passion is read book, I think that can help you. But for me, it's sports. I read book too, but (laughter) my passion is surf.
JACOBS: He shares that at workshops and meetings, and he'll point out that he's seen people take to the water who had never surfed before they lost a limb.
DARGENT: The passion in surfing is very special. The sensation of liberty, the sensation to fly above the water, I think it's like drugs (laughter) - but good drugs.
JACOBS: It's difficult sometimes, he says, to explain to friends and family why he's still out on the water all day. But he's also someone who's had a brush with death, and he's found that being back out there makes him feel alive. For NPR News, I'm Emma Jacobs in Marseille, France.
MONTAGNE: Emma Jacobs is an NPR Above the Fray fellow sponsored by the John Alexander Project.
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