"It's made me stronger," Maria Korcsmaros said of the attack

By Alex Heigl
Updated June 08, 2016 02:15 PM
Advertisement

“I love your shirt. It’s got a big shark on it.”

Those might seem like strange words coming from a shark attack victim, but Maria Korcsmaros is hardly your average shark attack victim – or your average, well, anything.

Korcsmaros, 52, was greeting shark researchers Ralph Collier and Chris Lowe, who were visiting her in her Santa Ana, California, hospital room, where she was recovering from a May 29 attack that left her with two broken ribs, a punctured lung and liver and a fractured pelvis.

A competitive triathlete, Korcsmaros was in the middle of a two-mile swim that day, training for a planned Ironman competition next month in Canada. She’d finished her first lap and was partially through her second when she felt the shark’s bite on her right arm.

“I instantly knew it was some kind of fish – like a big fish,” Korcsmaros told The Orange County Register. “I felt the bite and the teeth going into me.”

The shark’s bite tore away a good bit of her tricep, but Korcsmaros didn’t know it at the time. “I just knew I had to get to the lifeguard boat,” she said. “In training, there’s a certain amount of mental toughness. You have to get to the finish line.”

She was scooped up by a rescue boat, who applied a tourniquet to her arm and rushed her to the hospital for what would eventually become hours of surgery and a nine-day stay.

Before she could go home, however, Collier, founder of the Shark Research Committee in Chatsworth, examined photographs of her wounds and her shredded wetsuit. Based on that, he delivered a report to Korcsmaros, her husband Alex and her son Lucas.

“The shark was probably nine to 10 feet,” Collier said. “The shark made contact with you twice and repurchased [shifted] his jaws within a second. It wasn’t predatory. The shark didn’t think you were food. It was either an investigative or defensive response. The poor water visibility wasn’t a deterrent. Had he seen you clearly, he may have completely avoided you.”

Lowe added that they believe Korcsmaros was bitten by a teenage great white shark. DNA samples taken from the wetsuit will confirm the shark’s species.

Nothing about the attack has deterred Korcsmaros (or her son Lucas, who says he can’t wait for Discovery’s “Shark Week” to start) from returning to the water.

“It’s made me stronger,” she says of the trauma. “When you experience something like this and make it through, you have a certain amount of respect.”