A North County woman who punched a great white shark in the eye following a nearly-deadly attack spoke exclusively with NBC 7 about her road to recovery.
Two years ago, Leeanne Ericson was swimming with her boyfriend at a popular surf spot called Church -- just north of the now-closed San Onofre power plant -- when every beachgoer’s worst fear happened.
A 10-foot-long great white shark took a significant bite out of Ericson’s right leg. Ericson said she tried to push it off her and then punched it straight in the eye.
“As soon as I felt the teeth go into my leg, I knew exactly what it was,” she told NBC 7. “I just saw a black circle and my brain went, ‘Well, that’s soft. I can hurt that.’”
NBC 7 was there when Ericson met and thanked the surfers and bystanders who rushed to help her after she was dragged under the water by the great white.
She lost a section of her upper right leg and suffered significant blood loss. Ericson was rushed to the hospital where she went into a coma. Doctors later considered amputation, but the strong North County woman proved them wrong by moving her leg.
“And they just went as white as their coats because they didn't think I'd ever use it,” Ericson said.
She was initially told that walking would be a challenge for her. But since the April 2017 attack -- and with multiple procedures to repair extensive injuries -- Ericson has made an “incredible” recovery.
In addition to physical therapy, Ericson returned to a therapeutic exercise she loved before the shark attack -- Pilates.
“I just remember when she said, you know, ‘Do you think I can even do this?’ I thought, ‘How could you not do it? You fight off a great white shark and you survived!’” she told NBC 7. “Since I've started Pilates my leg has gotten much stronger.”
Ericson built up more strength, balance, and flexibility through the exercises modified especially for her. And soon after, she was on her way to become a trainer at the very same studio that helped her heal.
“It's just incredible where I've come from, and I'm almost, like, ‘Well, where can I go now? What can I do now?’”
Ericson got a tattoo of an elephant on her right foot with two tiny sharks in the animal’s large ears.
The tattoo serves as a reminder of everything she’s been through. Though, Ericson said an even bigger motivated for her recovery is her three children -- two of whom are twins about to turn 6 years old.
But as for the great white shark?
“I'm waiting for pictures of a one-eyed shark to start surfacing, so then I'm like, ‘That's my shark!’”