The possibility of petrifying shark encounters is reason enough to cause most people to stay clear from open waters.
Yet, in a recent segment, TODAY caught up with three shark bite victims who shared how they got back in the water despite having a common fear become their life-changing reality.
“I like to tell people that even though I got bit by a shark, I still love the ocean and love sharks,” Maggie Crum, who was bitten by a shark three years ago when she was nine years old, recently told TODAY.
Back in 2019, Crum was on vacation with her family on a beach in New Smyrna Beach, Florida, when a shark bit her leg. At the time, TODAY spoke with Crum about the shark bite, which is so unlikely to happen that experts say there is a one in 11.5 million chance of a person ever experiencing something similar.
“It felt like a grab at first, and then it just ripped into the skin,” she told TODAY. “And that’s when it hurt and felt like a bite.”
Now, three years later, Crum says she hopes that ocean life will be part of her future. “I want to be a Marine biologist when I grow up to learn more about the ocean and the animals in it,” she explained.
Like Crum, Austin Reed hasn’t let his harrowing encounter with a shark keep him from dipping his toes in the water.
“I still (enjoy) surfing as I believe it is ‘good for the soul,’” he recently told TODAY. “But I always believe that it’s smart to be with a friend whenever you’re in the water.”
Three years ago, TODAY interviewed Reed while he was still in a hospital and recovering from a shark bite to his right foot. With the help of a friend, Reed managed to escape from the shark and get to shore, where his mother made a tourniquet out of a beach towel to stop him from bleeding out.
“I thought the shark was about to go into a frenzy with all of the blood in the water,” Reed told TODAY about his experience soon after the incident.
Years later, Reed reflected on the ordeal, sharing that he’s doing well and plans to go into the medical field.
“Im doing really good since the piece aired,” Reed said. “I just graduated with a bachelor’s degree in biology this May and recently got hired to work (in) the emergency room of the hospital that I was (taken) to after my shark bite as I am pursuing a career in medicine.”
Tiffany Johnson also narrowly escaped a shark encounter with her life, but unlike Crum or Reed, she lost a limb in the process.
Back in 2017, the mother of three was vacationing with her husband in the Bahamas when a snorkeling trip went awry. While underwater, she felt something bump her right arm. When she looked up, she was staring straight into the eyes of a shark.
“He had my whole arm in his mouth,” Johnson told TODAY back in 2018, ten months after the incident occurred. “I remember thinking, ‘No, you are not going to take my life. I am not going to die here.’ I yanked, and his jaws popped open, and my arm just kind of flew out, and I remember just looking at it, and it was gone.”
Five years later, Johnson told TODAY that "a lot has changed" since her 2018 interview.
Since losing her arm, Johnson has thrown herself into helping others find strength in challenging circumstances. She founded Be An Overcomer Ministries, a Christian ministry that aims to provide outreach via church events and conferences, school assemblies, and partnerships with medical care providers to provide peer-to-peer support for amputees.
She’s also returned to the ocean.
Two weeks shy of the 5th anniversary of her shark encounter, Johnson traveled with her husband and their close friends to Rivera Maya, Mexico. For the first time since that fateful day, she snorkeled again.
“I really wasn’t sure if I would actually do the snorkeling until it was time to gear up,” she said. “Honestly, the conditions were a bit dicey with choppy waters. But as soon as I put my face under the water, the chaos above dissipated, and I felt (at) peace. So my husband and I, along with our friend, decided to make the trek and snorkel the open waters again... Not only did I snorkel the open ocean again, but I enjoyed it!”