FOLLY BEACH, S.C. (AP) - Teeth clamping both his feet, thrashing him to the left, to the right, then letting him go. The nightmare still startles Rory Corr awake.
“The force felt like I was hit by a car,” the Charleston native said.
They are in South Carolina coastal waters all the time, chasing bait fish. Yet the odds of being bitten are infinitesimal. You are statistically more likely to be suffocated by sand than killed by a shark. But the ocean is wilderness and the chance is there.
South Carolina hasn’t had a fatal attack since the 1850s. But a few people are nipped or worse each year in the Carolinas. For them, stepping back into the surf brings more than just butterflies in the stomach. It brings trepidation, even post-traumatic stress.
“The problem with trauma is it happens in a second. People’s lives are changed” before they can develop a coping mechanism, said Bruce Crookes, a Medical University of South Carolina trauma surgeon.
For three swimmers who lived to tell their stories, the nightmares don’t let go readily. At least some of the more seriously injured just don’t go back in the surf, among them Kiersten Yow, one of two teens severely mauled in 2015 off the beach at Oak Island, N.C., just across the South Carolina line.
Most who return to the water push themselves to do it. A shark grabbed the foot of surfer Holly Pope Dyar off Folly Beach in April. She’s back at the beach most days, watching for waves. But she won’t go back in by herself, she said.
They share one other thing:
“I have more respect for sharks,” Corr said. “They are an extremely powerful animal.”
Here are their survival stories.
Corr was 15 and surfing off Sullivan’s Island in 2007 when the shark struck. A friend helped him back to the wet beach and then raced off to call 911.
Corr lay there in a pool of his own blood, his feet shredded and a leg lacerated. Corr’s voice catches at moments as he talks about it a decade later. It was two months before he could walk on crutches, a year until he cleared physical therapy. At night he relived it in his sleep.
But he kept one thought in mind:
“I wanted to get back out there before it turned into some bigger mentally,” he said.
The first day he could, he paddled out to the same spot at the same time of day, surrounded by friends.
“It was a very, very spooky paddle,” he said. “But after I caught that first wave, it felt like I should be out there.”
Today, the lingering physical damage isn’t any more than a lacing of deep indentations left by the teeth. He was shaky for a while when getting in the water, but mostly that’s settled.
“I’m honestly probably more comfortable with sharks than most people because of what I’ve been through,” he said.
But he won’t get in the water at dawn or dusk, when sharks like to feed. The nightmare has faded with time, mostly.
“It still comes back once a year or so,” he said.
She was 12 years old swimming on Oak Island in 2015 when a shark bit her at least twice, on the arm and leg, as she punched at it. While emergency workers treated her on the beach, a 16-year-old male was mauled about a mile away.
It was the worst of a freak spate of eight bites across the Carolinas during June and July that year in what would be called the “Summer of the Shark” with a record 98 bites in the United States.
Today, the Archdale, N.C., teen is an honor student who recently launched a school project designing apparatus to help people who have lost limbs. She has an artificial arm. In January she underwent another round of surgery to rebuild the tissue in her left leg.
Her mother, Laurie Yow, posts updates on a Facebook page where friends and others voice their encouragement.
“With any traumatic event in life comes flashbacks and memories to cope with,” Laurie Yow told The Post and Courier. “Kiersten is no different, she constantly relives the events of that day in her mind and in her dreams. It’s not something that will just go away, but you do learn how to cope and turn your mind to something different.”
Yow posted on the page when a Florida teen was bitten by a shark in April, asking people to please be alert and aware of their surroundings. The page also features photos of Kiersten on a motorized watercraft and on the beach. Both were shot at Lake Wylie near her home.
“As far as returning to the ocean, there is no interest in going back in the water,” Laurie Yow said.
The family goes other places to vacation.
“We have also grown to love and appreciate swimming pools over the last two years,” she said.
Holly Pope Dyar
The water was so clear she could see the shark clamp on her foot then let go. She saw a bigger shark nearby.
“I basically hauled (butt) in to shore,” she said.
Dyar, 34, of James Island was the first locally reported bite this year, in April, surfing alone on Folly Beach. She was nipped on the left heel, an injury not considered severe.
“It bit me so perfectly that I didn’t have skeletal damage. I didn’t have muscle damage. I have a cool scar,” she said.
A veteran of 20 years surfing, she never really expected to get bit. She replays in her mind what happened, how lucky she was, how easily it could have been worse. The surfer is not about to quit.
She goes down to that same spot playing in the water, waiting for rideable surf to paddle out again. Now she’ll wear a shark repellent band, she said. “That shark feeling” is always there.
“I’ll probably be a little scared to go back out,” she said. “I don’t know if I’ll be able to go by myself. It’ll be in my mind, for sure.”
Crookes, of MUSC, said one-third or more of trauma victims develop post-traumatic stress disorder. The best help is to talk with other survivors, he said.
There are also beach statistics in human favor. Maybe 100 million people hit the beach in the United States each year, according to estimates. In 2016, only 53 unprovoked shark bites were compiled by the International Shark Attack file at the Florida Museum of Natural History.
No one died.
Information from: The Post and Courier, https://www.postandcourier.com
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