Shark bite survivor Chantelle Doyle enters boxing ring for marine conservation

Chantelle Doyle has survived one of many Australians’ worst fears — a shark attack.

Now the 37-year-old is preparing to take on another intimidating opponent — this time in the boxing ring.

“Every time I think about it, or talk about it, I’m hit with low grade nausea and panic,” Ms Doyle said.

“And that just comes at me day after day, after day.”

Ms Doyle does not remember feeling fear when a 2.5 metre juvenile great white shark bit into her left leg, knocking her off her surfboard at a Port Macquarie beach in August 2020.

“I was just reacting because that’s what you have to do because adrenaline takes over,” she said.

She scrambled back on her board and her partner Mark Rapley paddled over and fought the shark off, punching it in the face until it let go.

They were then able to get her out of the water and into an ambulance.

This time, it will be Ms Doyle throwing the punches in defence of sharks, using her first boxing match later this month at Dee Why on Sydney’s northern beaches to raise money for the Australian Marine Conservation Society.

Learning to navigate fear
Severe nerve damage initially left Ms Doyle unable to feel or move her left leg below the knee.

She has regained a lot of movement and strength after multiple surgeries and ongoing intense rehabilitation.

But she said she was frustrated by the pace of recovery.

“My leg is still partially paralysed,” she said.

“And I had expected a lot more and I was just really sick of feeling like I couldn’t function the way I ever used to function.

“So I started boxing.”

Ms Doyle, who wears a brace on her left foot and lower leg, is in the middle of a gruelling 12-week training schedule to get ready physically and mentally for the six-minute fight.

She has noticed improvements, with a new muscle regaining function a couple of weeks ago.

“Last week was the first time I was able to do a cartwheel in two years,” she said.

Despite suffering a panic attack during a grading match, Ms Doyle said boxing was empowering.

“Something I learned about myself with the shark, and also with boxing is I have that unique freeze tendency,” she said.

“There’s fight, flight or freeze, and I’m a freezer, so that’s what I’m working on in boxing at the moment … I’m working through all of those kinds of disabling parts and figuring out how I can navigate it.”

Her commitment to helping protect the animal that attacked her is motivating her to keep fighting.

Punching for sharks
As a botanist, Ms Doyle said she knew the importance of conservation, but did not know much about the ocean environment before coming face to face with a great white.

She has since learnt that Australia is a biodiversity hotspot for sharks.

“I think sharks get a pretty bad rap,” she said.

“I have this crazy vision that Australia could be a global role model for biodiversity and living with nature and I really think we can be.”

Australian Marine Conservation Society shark scientist Leonardo Guida first spoke to Ms Doyle and her partner within a week of the incident.

“They really want to understand what was happening in the ocean and why sharks are so important,” Ms Doyle said.

Great white sharks are recognised as vulnerable in Australian waters and, globally, 37 per cent of shark and ray species are threatened with extinction primarily due to overfishing.