As a golf-ball diver, I’ve been in the water alongside big alligators and never thought anything of it, although in the stirred-up muck, visibility isn’t even an inch.
The encounter that nearly ended me began when an 8-and-a-half-foot female, whom I knew was in the shallows at a Boynton Beach, Florida, golf course, suddenly latched onto the boot of my tank and yanked. The second she released the tank, I reached for my dive knife. But in that split-second, I thought, Don’t grab the knife; grab your air.
I hadn’t been fully submerged, so I hadn’t pulled on my full-face mask. I did so immediately. That turned out to be the first step in my survival. Her mouth clamped onto my left hand, and she began dragging me to the lake’s center, my hand outstretched in front of me like Superman. As she swam, her whole body worked like a snake. Imagine the movements that an iguana makes running — except 100 times bigger. There is no fighting that.
Still, I tried. With my right hand, I struggled to grab my knife but could not grasp it. As we reached the middle of the lake, I knew what she was going to do. Suddenly a vision of my two kids entered my mind. I couldn’t leave them. Not like this. So as she started rolling, I reached my right arm around her as far as I could and held on. I also started kicking. Madly. At this point, the adrenaline was only working in my favor. I was focused and thinking clearly. As soon as she stopped spinning, I reclaimed my right hand — and started punching her in the eyes.
Only then did she forfeit my left hand, dangling. But it was still attached, for which I was utterly thankful.
Our meeting left me with 15 puncture wounds and a nasty bacterial infection that also could have been the end of me. But I survived that too.