Paul, a Hippo, and how we respond to what happens

templerbookPaul Templer is from Zimbabwe. He grew up in Harare with my dear friend and college roommate Anton. So I had the privilege to meet Paul over twenty years ago while he was traveling, and visiting us, in the States. At the time I recall he was a free spirit, wild, fun, adventurous. The summer after that visit to our college in North Carolina we all lived together in a rental apartment in Chiswick, London. We worked as laborers for a tenting company with a few Aussies and Kiwis. It was a blast. And always Paul was a generous, caring and great guy to be around.

One time I commented how much I appreciated his velskoene shoes from Africa. Velskoenes are traditional leather bush boots, pronounced ‘fellsquin’ and more known commonly as ‘fellies.’ Anyway, at the end of his visit he said he would like me to have them. I insisted on paying him something. He said, “surprise me with whatever you want to pay for them, but they are yours.” I gave him everything in my pocket – which was about $23 and proudly wore and appreciated these African boots.

A few years later we had all graduated and set off on other adventures. Paul returned to Zimbabwe to become a licensed river and bush guide and establish a touring company. This story you might vaguely recall from over ten years ago, because his heroic efforts during a river trip hit the international news wire, and was later featured in a National Geographic story. Paul was guiding a group of tourists down the Zambezi river and had divided his clients between himself and the two other guides aiding him that day. Paul was keenly aware hippos are notoriously territorial and took precaution to keep his group close and periodically bang the side of the boat to encourage the hippos to surface and be seen.

Suddenly his friend’s guide boat was flipped by a 4,000lb hippo and both the guide and his clients were launched into the river. Paul immediately lept into the river to save his guide and direct his clients to the shore, but the hippo attacked Paul repeatedly, holding him down beneath the surface, until eventually when he was freed by the beast and swam to shore. His arm had been nearly severed and his lung had been punctured. The nearest surgeon was 270 miles away in Bulawayo over a dusty difficult jeep ride, and hours later upon arriving, the doctor was left with no choice but to amputate Paul’s arm.

The experience threw him into a funk. With no money, no job and no arm, after months Paul picked himself up and started again. Paul’s second act has been to marry, father three beautiful children and become a successful, dedicated and talented speaker, coach, adventurer, philanthropist and inspiration for many around the world. In the wake of this event, Paul has found strength. In his own words, “Stuff happens. Life is going to happen. The only thing we have any choice over is how we respond to what life throws at us.”

I encourage you to have a look at his new book, What’s Left of Me. Enjoy!