Top athletes often have to overcome obstacles and endure hardships to succeed. That, of course, is why we often find them so inspirational. But it’s one thing to have to overcome disease, heartbreak, car crashes, or some other horrible thing that regular people experience every day. It’s quite another to have to overcome out-of-the-blue attacks from vicious animals. I mean, you just don’t expect to get attacked by a rabid fox while you’re out for a jog, you know?
Nevertheless, I’ve recently discovered that there are a surprising number of athletes that have been attacked by animals while doing their thing. And the stories are pretty terrifying. Bears, sharks, alligators, antelopes—there are some athletes out there who’ve had to endure the wrath of some pretty wild creatures.
Now, some of these stories end up just being close calls; others are, unfortunately, quite tragic. Either way, the next time you get back from a run or finish a round of golf unscathed, you’ll probably be a little more appreciative.
Let's start off with one that's not so bad, okay?
British distance runner Natalie Harvey may not have competed in the Olympics, but she has competed in both the 5,000 and the 10,000 at the Commonwealth Games—which is a lot better than anything I've ever done as an athlete. Anyway, in October of 2010, Harvey was out for a typical training run in London's Happy Valley Park when she suffered a nasty bite from an unleashed doberman pincer.
While not exactly a mauling, the attack drew blood and left Harvey with a nasty bruise on the leg—problematic for an elite runner.
9. Runner attacked by dog
Okay, so now we're taking it up a notch. First we had a story about a runner attacked by one dog. Now we have a story about a cyclist attacked by several dogs.
Nationally recognized* cyclist Susan Boudreaux was out for a tour on her bike last August, about an hour and a half north of New Orleans in Louisiana's Washington Parish. All of a sudden, she was surrounded by a pack of dogs and then attacked. During the attack, one of the dogs latched onto her ankle, dragging her off her bike, and onto the road.
Boudreaux is alright, thankfully, but it was a pretty harrowing experience. And the real crazy thing is, these weren't even wild dogs. From the photo Boudreaux managed to snap, she was able to discover the owners of two of the dogs. But cash-strapped Washington Parish doesn't even have an animal control officer, so no justice was ever served.
*I have no idea what "nationally recognized" means. But that's how all the news reports described her, so I thought I should too. Incidentally, did you know I am a "nationally recognized" writer?
8. Cyclist attached by multiple dogs
This one was all over the news a few years back, and the victim even got to tell her story to David Letterman on the Late Show, so you may remember it.
Chino Valley, Arizona, resident Michelle Felicetta was out for her usual evening run in late summer 2008. Along the trail where she was running, she spotted a harmless-looking fox. No big deal. Just a fox, out in nature, doing it's thing. But then the fox ran toward her and started attacking her feet and legs. At that point, Felicetta grabbed the pesky fox the neck, but it proved too wild to handle, and managed to fling itself around and sink its teeth into the flesh of her forearm.
Felicetta remained calm, however. She simply jogged the 1 mile back to her car with the rabid fox attached to her forearm, pried its teeth out of her skin, wrapped it in her sweatshirt, and threw it in the trunk. Like you do when you're attacked by a rabid fox.
7. Jogger attacked by rabid fox
Here's the most recent story on the list. A few weeks ago Al Miller, former U.S. National Soccer Team coach and member of the U.S. Soccer Hall of Fame, was out playing golf near his Florida home like he does almost every day. Unfortunately, on this day, Miller managed to get tangled up with the business end of one of Florida's 1.3 million alligators.
It happened after Miller's ball rolled into a pond beyond a green at the Lake Ashton Golf Club. He had a quick peek to see if he could spot the ball, but he gave up and started walking back toward the green. That's when he suddenly experienced what felt like a strong electrical shock pulse through his leg. Obviously, it wasn't an electrical shock but the bite of a 9 foot, 190 pound alligator. It flung him to the ground and laid into his knee pretty good, but luckily the 75-year-old is still alive to tell the tale. (And yes, that's the culprit pictured in the above photo.)
6. U.S. Soccer coach attacked by gator while playing golf
This one really doesn't need much explanation. It's kind of self-explanatory. This dude is biking across the plains of the Serengeti when, out of nowhere, an antelope comes flying in and totally crushes the guy. And it was all caught on tape.
This, of course, is why I only ride my bike on busy city streets—where it's safe.
5. Mountain biker rammed by wild antelope
U.S. Ski Team member Ani Haas says she'd always wanted to be attacked by a wild animal. Well, back in July of 2011, she got her wish!
Wait, that's not right. One of her biggest fears was being attacked by a wild animals. So back in July one of her worst nightmares came true.
Yeah, that's how the story goes.
Haas was out for a jog near her home in Missoula, Montana, last July when she came face to face with an angry black bear. Luckily, the Montana native actually knew that, though you are supposed to play dead if you encounter a grizzly, you're supposed to puff yourself up and look as big as possible if you encounter a black bear. So she escaped with only a couple of nasty scratches to the arm and chest.
Raise your hand if you would probably have been mauled to death by that bear?
4. Skier attacked by bear
At #3 we have another golfer attacked by a gator. But unlike victim Al Miller at #6, this guy was't so lucky.
Ohio man James Wienzek was vacationing in Florida back in 2009, and he decided to play a round of golf at the Ocean Creek Golf Course. When his ball rolled into a pond, not being from around there, he was a little too eager to retrieve it, reaching into the water with his hand. That's when a 10 foot alligator bit off his forearm. Like, the whole thing.
Wildlife officials later captured and killed the alligator, retrieving the man's forearm for the doctors. However, it's unclear whether they were ever able to reattach it.
3. Golfer loses forearm to gator
There are actually a bunch of surfers who have been attacked by sharks. So I decided to go with the most famous story, because it also happens to be the one with the happiest ending.
On October 31, 2003, a 13-year-old Bethany Hamailton went for a morning surf near her home in Kauai, Hawaii. Unfortunately, it turned out to be a pretty rough morning, as a 15-foot tiger shark bit into her and ripped her left arm completely off. Quick thinking by everyone on shore helped to keep Hamilton from bleeding to death, but there would be no saving her arm.
But you know the rest, right? The intrepid teenager who always wanted to be a professional surfer was determined to get back into the water, and so she did—only a month after losing her arm. She went on to become the most famous one-armed athlete in the world (sorry, Jim Abbott), and, yes, a professional.
2. Surfer loses arm to shark
Unfortunately, we have to finish up our list of athletes attacked by animals on a very, very sad note.
In 2001, 24-year-old Canadian biathlete Mary-Beth Miller was doing a training run outside Quebec City, Quebec, when she was attacked and killed by a bear. Nobody was there to witness the horrible incident, but her body was discovered in a heavily wooded area with a bite mark on her neck and bear tracks nearby. It was a tragic reminder of the dangers lurking in the wild, and another tragic example of a promising athlete whose life was cut short.