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Most Influential 2017: Leeanne Ericson fought a shark and won

Shark attack victim Leeanne Ericson, with her boyfriend Dusty Phillips, looks through her wetsuit that was shredded by a shark on April 29th. She keeps an upbeat attitude as she faces a long road of recovery. She is pictured in Capistrano Beach on Wednesday, August 30, 2017. Ericson says she is still not ready to visit San Onofre State Beach where the attack occurred. (Photo by Mindy Schauer, Orange County Register/SCNG)Shark attack victim Leeanne Ericson, with her boyfriend Dusty Phillips, maintain their sense of humor after Ericson’s near-fatal shark attack on April 29th. Sunsets Bar and Grill in Capistrano Beach created the “Shark Bite” rum drink to raise money for her recovery. It features a plastic shark and is topped off with a drop of grenadine to simulate blood.(Photo by Mindy Schauer, Orange County Register/SCNG)Shark attack victim Leeanne Ericson gets help walking on the sand with her boyfriend Dusty Phillips. She will probably always need a brace after losing part of her right leg to a shark attack on April 29th.(Photo by Mindy Schauer, Orange County Register/SCNG)Shark attack victim Leeanne Ericson’s injuries are not for the faint of heart. She is missing part of her right leg and has a long road of healing ahead. She wants people to know that even though she may look okay, her injuries are extensive. (Photo by Mindy Schauer, Orange County Register/SCNG)Passerby Jesse Gerondale, right, becomes part of a photo shoot after passing shark attack victim Leeanne Ericson and her boyfriend Dusty Phillips, left, at Capistrano Beach on Wednesday, August 30, 2017. Gerondale, wearing a shirt which reads , “Keep Calm and Surf Fast,” reacts to seeing Ericsons shark-shredded wetsuit.(Photo by Mindy Schauer, Orange County Register/SCNG)Leeanne Ericson shows where her wetsuit was bitten off by a shark in a near-fatal attack on April 29th at San Onofre State Beach. (Photo by Mindy Schauer, Orange County Register/SCNG)Shark attack victim Leeanne Ericson, with her boyfriend Dusty Phillips, keeps an upbeat attitude after being bitten by a shark on her right thigh and backside on April 29th. She faces a long road of recovery. She is pictured in Capistrano Beach on Wednesday, August 30, 2017. Ericson says she is still not ready to visit San Onofre State Beach where the attack occurred. (Photo by Mindy Schauer, Orange County Register/SCNG)Leeanne Ericson greets supporters at Cassano’s Italian Restaurant in San Clemente, California, on Monday, November 6, 2017. , Ericson, who was attacked by a shark in April, was doing a shift as a guest bartender to raise funds for her recovery and meet with people who helped her in her time of need. (Photo by Jeff Gritchen, Orange County Register/SCNG)Leeanne Ericson, right, thanks server Christie Perrone during a guest bartender shift at Cassano’s Italian Restaurant in San Clemente, California, on Monday, November 6, 2017. , Ericson, who was attacked by a shark in April, was doing a shift as a guest bartender to raise funds for her recovery and meet with people who helped her in her time of need. (Photo by Jeff Gritchen, Orange County Register/SCNG)Leeanne Ericson greets supporters at Cassano’s Italian Restaurant in San Clemente, California, on Monday, November 6, 2017. , Ericson, who was attacked by a shark in April, was doing a shift as a guest bartender to raise funds for her recovery and meet with people who helped her in her time of need. (Photo by Jeff Gritchen, Orange County Register/SCNG)Leeanne Ericson, right, thanks server Christie Perrone during a guest bartender shift at Cassano’s Italian Restaurant in San Clemente, California, on Monday, November 6, 2017. , Ericson, who was attacked by a shark in April, was doing a shift as a guest bartender to raise funds for her recovery and meet with people who helped her in her time of need. (Photo by Jeff Gritchen, Orange County Register/SCNG)Shark attack victim Leeanne Ericson, with her boyfriend Dusty Phillips, with her wetsuit that was shredded by a shark on April 29th. She keeps an upbeat attitude even as she faces a long road of recovery. She is pictured in Capistrano Beach on Wednesday, August 30, 2017. Ericson says she is still not ready to visit San Onofre State Beach where the attack occurred. (Photo by Mindy Schauer, Orange County Register/SCNG)Sunsets Bar and Grill general manager Ashley Garcia, second from left, and owner Damien Collins react as Dusty Phillips shows his girlfriend Leeanne Ericson’s, at right, wetsuit that was torn apart in a shark attack. The restaurant created the “Shark Bite” rum drink to raise money for her Ericson’s recovery. Photo by Mindy Schauer, Orange County Register/SCNG)Shark attack victim Leeanne Ericson, with her boyfriend Dusty Phillips, keeps an upbeat attitude after being bitten by a shark on her right thigh and backside on April 29th. She faces a long road of recovery. She is pictured in Capistrano Beach on Wednesday, August 30, 2017. Ericson says she is still not ready to visit San Onofre State Beach where the attack occurred. (Photo by Mindy Schauer, Orange County Register/SCNG)Show Caption of Expand
It’s a tiny group, and no one wants to join:
The Shark Bite Club.
But on a warm day in April, Leeanne Ericson became a member. The San Diego mother of three was enjoying a swim at San Onofre State Beach as her boyfriend, Dusty Phillips, surfed nearby, when an estimated 10-foot great white shark clamped down on her right leg and buttocks and dragged her under the surface.
Ericson survived. But in a moment quicker than a blink, her life was changed. She joined swimmer Maria Korcsmaros — who was bitten a year earlier near Newport Beach — as one of two people known to have survived a major shark attack in local waters.
What makes Ericson influential isn’t the bite — it’s what happened in the months after.

No blame
“When these unfortunate things (shark bites) happen to people, they have choices on how they deal with those,” said Chris Lowe, director of the Shark Lab at Cal State Long Beach, which tracks great whites and other sharks in the local waters.
“Leeanne has been through a lot, yet she is bouncing back,” Lowe said. “That says a lot about… character. Those are horrific things that happen, (but) seeing people go back to what they do – that’s a testament to a person’s drive to keep going.”
Some deal with it privately, like Ericson did in the early months, when she endured countless surgeries and began a long, still un-finished road to full recovery. Others see it as a negative and call for changes, like killing lots of sharks.
Then, there are people like Ericson (and Korcsmaros before her), who don’t blame the shark for being in its natural environment and doing what predators do – go after food.
“Those are quintessential Californians, they have a different connection with the environment,” said Lowe of the survivors who don’t blame the sharks.
“I think they take those things more in stride, compared to how other people react.”
Why her?
Ericson was enjoying a camping trip on the Camp Pendleton, sitting on the nose of Phillips’ surfboard, wearing a wetsuit and fins. Phillips had pulled the board from under her as a wave came in, and they believe a shark nearby mistook her for a nearby seal.
As the shark pulled her into the ocean, she described feeling its hard, rough skin, then feeling something soft, what she thinks was its eye, which she dug into with her hand.
The shark released and when she reached the surface, Phillips put her on his surfboard and struggled to get her to shore, with others rushing to help. She was airlifted to Scripps Memorial in La Jolla, where her loved ones didn’t let her see her story splashed on national news.
When Ericson, 37, did learn of her undesired stardom, she couldn’t understand why people were so interested in her. Plenty of people are hurt, or worse, every day. Why the interest her?
But people were fascinated, especially the local, ocean-loving community. Many surfers and swimmers know it could’ve happened to them.
Tiffany Cassano, who manages the family-run Cassano’s restaurant in San Clemente, was among many in the region who felt a connection with Ericson. She didn’t know Ericson before the bite, but she held several fundraisers in her name.
Cassano said a pay-it-forward attitude started in the small eatery, with locals handing over $100 bills; one wrote a $1,000 check.
None knew Ericson at the time.
Forward!
About a month ago, Ericson showed up to be a guest bartender. She wanted to thank those who supported her in her time of need. She also wanted to do a little fundraising of her own, and donated $1,000 raised to two other charities.
Ericson’s encounter changed how lifeguards watch the ocean, and the psyches of many surfers who, for a time, chose to stay out of an ocean that seemed to have more great white sharks than usual. Local businesses, including hotels and surf schools, felt the trickle-down affect of Ericson’s bite.
But as months passed without another attack, anxieties eased. Even as shark sightings continued into summer, more people than ever seemed to be going to local beaches.
“What kind of got more media attention was the incident, early in the spring, and that’s what put sharks on the front page,” Lowe said. “And they stayed on the front page all summer. Had the incident not happened, sharks might have been on the third page.”
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Source: Oc Register

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