Former Yale Swimmer Ali Truwit Eyes Paralympic Debut One Year After Losing Leg in Shark Attack

Almost one year ago, the unthinkable happened to Ali Truwit.

Two days after graduating from Yale last May, she was attacked by a shark while swimming with former Bulldogs teammate Sophie Pilkinton (’19) in the Turks and Caicos Islands.

“We kicked and shoved back, but it bit through my foot and we had to swim 50 to 75 yards back to the boat to save ourselves,” Truwit told U.S. Para Swimming last month. “Without that training, I’m not sure we would have made it back to the boat in the open ocean. In a story where a really unlucky thing happened, there was a lot of luck in who was around me.”

The shark bit off Truwit’s foot at the ankle, but Pilkinton acted quickly to fashion a tourniquet to stop the bleeding. Truwit was airlifted to a Miami hospital, where she underwent two life-saving surgeries to combat infection. On her 23rd birthday, her leg was amputated below her knee to allow for better mobility with a prosthetic.

Hearing the sound of water brought back traumatic memories of her shark attack, but Truwit was determined to return to the pool.

“I was really fearful — I still haven’t been back in open water,” Truwit said. “But 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, and that was definitely something I had to overcome, but it was important to not lose my love of the water.”

A strong support system aided Truwit’s recovery. Her mother, Jody, was captain of the Yale women’s swim team in 1991. They got in touch with U.S. Para Swimming director Erin Popovich about a competitive comeback. Truwit’s prosthetist also connected her with another one of his clients: 29-time Paralympic medalist Jessica Long.

Just a few months after the shark attack — and only a few days after returning to swimming — Truwit made her Para debut at the Fred Lamback Georgia Para-Swimming Open. In December, she went to the U.S. Para Swimming National Championships in Orlando and brought home a silver medal in the women’s 100 backstroke S1-2,6-14.

“I’ve made it a priority to focus on what I still have and what I still can do, and the Paralympics and swimming has been invaluable in helping me to stick to that mindset as much as I can,” she said.

In February, Truwit made an appearance on “The Kelly Clarkson Show” with Long to share her story.

“Swimming was the first thing that saved my life and the second was my teammate Sophie [Pilkinton],” Truwit told Clarkson on the show. “She applied a tourniquet on my leg and stopped the bleeding. I’m forever indebted to her.”

Truwit was a distance freestyle specialist at Yale, placing 10th in both the 1000 and 1650 free events at the 2020 Ivy League Championships as a sophomore. The Connecticut also earned top-15 finishes in the 500, 1000, and 1650 free as a freshman at the 2019 Ivy League Championships.

“The Yale Swimming community has been in the trenches with me since the first day this happened and has helped pull me through with nonstop love and visits from my coach and teammates and even ongoing weekly messages of support from my mom’s teammates from the 1990s,” Truwit said.

Truwit’s sights are now set on punching her ticket to Paris at the U.S. Paralympic Team Trials from June 27-29 in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

“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,” Truwit said. “I know it’s a super-fast turnaround, just over a year, and there’s a lot I have to accomplish, but I feel really excited to try.”

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nova archer
1 month ago

i’m glad that she persevered in her dream

Phil Espinosa
1 month ago

Freekin LOVE this. All the respect….

Good stuff
1 month ago

What a brave soul. Best of luck on whatever she sets her mind to

Coach DL2
1 month ago

Holy smokes. Ali is an amazing human being. I had the good fortune of getting to know her in 2021-2022 and she is simply the most outgoing and positive person I have ever met. This article is incredibly inspiring, and the amazing part is Ali has seemed to be this way her whole life. Diet Coke and I will be rooting for you, Ali! 🙂

1 month ago

😢🙌 so inspiring, stay strong and positive and good things prevail. Good luck to Ali, I got not doubt good things coming her way.

About Riley Overend

Riley is an associate editor interested in the stories taking place outside of the pool just as much as the drama between the lane lines. A 2019 graduate of Boston College, he arrived at SwimSwam in April of 2022 after three years as a sports reporter and sports editor at newspapers …

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