Florida triathlete fights off alligator attack

Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water.

On Sunday morning, Doug McCard, a 35-year-old sales associate for A-1 Septic in Kissimmee, Florida was attacked by an alligator just as he was beginning a swim training session for a planned Half Ironman in June. He is now looking to compete in a duathlon, where no swimming is involved.

“It was a real hard hit and I felt the teeth,” McCard told a news conference at Orlando Regional Medical Center about the incident in Lake Mary Jane in Moss Park. “I started thinking to myself ‘…I can’t believe a gator is biting me.”

"I was shocked,” he said to the news conference. “[Before starting swimming] I always stand and take a look to see if the gators are there. There are gators in every lake, but I saw nothing [Sunday] so I swam like I always do.

“It hit me like a Mack truck."

As he recalled in the news conference, McCard stood up in the shallow brackish waters and started to swing with his elbows, not unlike an NBA tough guy trying to clear out a rebound. “I got in a pretty good elbow to the head and he released me,” he said of the gator he estimated to be between 8 and 10 feet in length. “I started yelling to try to scare him and backed off until I could run out of the water.”

Witnesses said they heard McCard screaming and yelling and running out of the water bleeding from the chest.

The gator landed five puncture wounds to McCard’s right shoulder, one to his hip, and a few more to his back. Doctors kept him overnight in case of infection.

McCard, described as an “alligator aware" Florida native who had been swimming in Florida lakes “thousands of times,” said thinks he startled the alligator and it reacted by chomping him.

“If it was after me, it would have probably taken me under and rolled because that is what Gators do,” he told the Orlando Sentinel.

McCard said he hopes to begin training again soon, but will likely avoid Lake Mary Jane.

A Wikipedia entry notes that at least 20 persons have been killed by alligators in Florida in the last quarter century. That number far exceeds the number of persons killed by sharks throughout the United States.

A man hired by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission set traps trying to catch the alligator, but so far has not caught the reptile.

Prior to this attack, sharks have been the primary predators threatening triathletes training in open water. In April 2008, a great white shark killed retired veterinarian Dave Martin who was taking an early morning swim in Solana Beach, California with fellow members of the San Diego Triathlon Club.

In June of 2000, 44-year-old triathlete Chuck Anderson was taking an early morning training swim in Gulf Shores, Alabama when a bull shark grabbed his arm and dragged him down to the bottom in about eight feet of water and tore off his arm.

In a related incident in 2001 in Pensacola, Florida, triathlete Vance Flosenzier of Mentone Alabama, who finished 40 seconds ahead of Chuck Anderson in Anderson’s return to triathlon after the 2000 shark attack, wrestled off a shark attacking an 8-year-old Jessie Arbogast and saved the boy's life.

Most Florida triathletes are aware that alligators lurk in nearly every inland lake pond and river. But many, like McCard and age group star Joe Bonness of Naples Florida, continue to fearlessly utilize Florida's lakes, ponds and streams for open water swimming. Bonness, in fact, has achieved triathlon’s equivalent of John Wayne status among foreign rivals for his tales of choosing to swimming in alligator-inhabited waters near his Gulf Coast home in Naples.

Now, McCard and some fellow residents of Kissimmee – not far from the artificial thrills of Disney World – say they won’t surrender the pleasures of lake swimming to the occasional objections of the natural residents of Florida’s inland waters.