"I was really terrified of sharks when I started diving," says Nabat. "I challenge my fears. IÂ'll jump out of airplanes because IÂ'm afraid of heights."
"IÂ'll go scuba diving with sharks so I know what itÂ's like," she adds. "IÂ'm excited but IÂ'm scared."
For five years, divers have come to WalkerÂ's Key for one of the most thrilling underwater spectacles in the world. ItÂ's what Gary Adkinson calls his "shark rodeo."
"We tell them theyÂ're going to talk about it the rest of their lives," he says. "This isnÂ't ... an amusement park attraction. ItÂ's much more than that."
Adkinson says heÂ's done the rodeo hundreds of times, and no oneÂ's ever been hurt. "Two things motivate sharks, just like people: sex and food. The only danger is if we compete with them for the food. ThatÂ's how people get hurt."
Nabat and her friends from Michigan are told the rules before they get to wrangle with the sharks. Adkinson even makes participants sign a waiver, reading:
I understand that I am requesting to participate in a scuba dive that is intended to be done in the presence of wild and unpredictable sharks.
And I understand that WalkerÂ's Key will intentionally attract these sharks to the immediate area of this dive, and that I will be swimming unprotected within 10 feet or less of these sharks.
Adkinson feeds the sharks with a chumsicle, a slab of frozen fish parts. "I have a steel rack thatÂ's in a barrel," he explains. "We hand pack fish carcasses around it and we freeze it," he continues. "And whatÂ'll happen is, as the chunks break off, youÂ'll see 12, 15, 20, 100 sharks go in there and start fighting over this chunk of food. ThatÂ's why we call it shark rodeo."
"But whatever you do, donÂ't ever touch the food," he warns. "Even if one of them swims by and drops a piece of fish in front of you, donÂ't pick up that fish and start waving it around. TheyÂ'll associate you with that food."
On the eve of her maiden voyage, Nabat says, "It's like the top of that roller coaster. I'm ready to go down; I'm excited to go down, but I'm also afraid."
Still more instructions from Adkinson: "Everywhere you look, you're going to see sharks. I really encourage you to interact with them. Get the feeling of what it's like to have them above you, beneath you, all around you. Remember, a word of caution: Under no circumstances do you ever turn your back on our chumsicle."
Thirty minutes after her adventure has begun, Nabat still has five fingers and five toes. But more importantly, she has never felt more alive. "I like that feeling f fear," she admits.
"A lot of the people go through day to day and they work really hard, and they do what theyÂ've got to do to make ends meet and live their lives," she says. "When you feel your heart pound like that, youÂ're like, Â'Yeah, this is life. IÂ'm alive.Â'"
Running With The Bulls || Adventurous Links
Lightning Strikes || Taking Care Of Baby
Close To The Volcano || Shark Rodeo