What's it like being attacked by a shark? Not many people know, which is the point of Haley Cohen Gilliland's lengthy piece for Outside Online. She begins by tracking the attack Alex Wilton survived in March 2019 off Mexico's Pacific coast as a way of introducing the Bite Club: a modestly sized Facebook group made up of about 370 survivors who have found a community that understands them—a rarity when you consider that Wilton was one of just 64 people on the entire planet to suffer an unprovoked shark attack in 2019. The then-32-year-old's attack happened after flying from San Francisco to Troncones for a wedding. The Silicon Valley product manager was comfortable with open-water swimming and decided to get some exercise after a day cooped up on planes.
And the odds were heavily in his favor. As Gilliland writes, "Wilton was more likely to be killed falling from bed or by a fireworks show gone awry than breaststroking in the Pacific." And yet: "Something hurtled into him with what felt like the force of a tank" as he swam. What is now thought to be an adolescent great white tore open his right leg, just missing his femoral artery. He made it back to shore and survived, requiring 27 stitches and finding that he could walk without crutches after just a week. If the physical recovery was easy, the mental recovery was not. He suffered flashbacks even while showering or driving on a bridge over water. He had avoided joining the Bite Club, but finally decided he needed "extra help." Gilliland's story introduces the group's founder, an Australian named Dave Pearson, and how Wilton got the encouragement from the group to finally return to the water—and water that sharks frequent at that. (Read the full story for much more.)