(NEW YORK) — A North Carolina teenager who survived a brutal shark attack earlier this month relived the terrifying moment in an exclusive interview with ABC News’ Good Morning America.
Paige Winter, 17, was attacked while swimming in waist-deep waters off the coast of North Carolina on June 2. She lost two fingers and her left leg was amputated, but she refuses to let the attack keep her down.
“I was aware from the beginning, nothing’s gonna be the same ever again. Like, I’m still Paigey. Just a little different,” Winter told GMA in an interview airing Tuesday. “I got some pieces of the puzzle missing. But it’s OK. … I’d rather have to go through this tough journey than, like, not being able to use my hands. Not being able to, like, walk.”
The teen was swimming in the ocean with her sister and brother on a warm Sunday afternoon, enjoying the sun and pretending to be mermaids, when things suddenly took a turn for the worst. Something started to pull her underwater.
At first, she thought it was one of her siblings grabbing her leg as a joke, but then she started to feel a weird “snapping” sensation — something she said she’ll never forget.
“I’m like, ‘Is this, like, a snapping turtle? Like, what’s happening?'” she recalled. “Then it just starts. Like a dog [when] they get a rope and you grab the other rope and they just start going — like with their whole body.”
“I remember giving up for a second, and then I just start like laying there … and then I was like, ‘no, wait a minute, I can’t do that. Like, that’s not an option!'” she said.
Winter said her body went into shock and she eventually stopped feeling pain. She said she mustered up all her strength and tried “prying” the animal off of her, but it was too strong.
Beginning to lose hope, she started to pray for a miracle.
“I’m like, ‘I’m 17, like, please don’t let me die. Like, I’m not ready to die, I have stuff to do. Like, so much,'” she said, recalling her brief conversation with God. “My body went into shock. So I couldn’t feel anything, I just knew it was bad.”
The teenager suffered “deep lacerations to her leg, pelvic and hand areas” and had to be airlifted to a trauma center. Despite her injuries, the teen said she hopes to turn it into a positive experience.
Luckily, her father, Charlie Winter, manged to punch the shark in a move that may have saved her life, authorities said. Now she calls him her hero.
Paige Winter said she still remembers how she felt when her father placed her over his shoulder and brought her back to safety.
“I was like, ‘Dad, please help me!’ I remember being really quiet,” she said. “And at one point his energy, like, dropped. He’s like, ‘I can’t … I can’t, man,’ and I was like, “Yes, you can, please help me.”
Charlie Winter said he ran as fast as he could when he realized his daughter was in danger.
“You could tell where she was because you could see pink on the water,” he told GMA. “I dove under. It was about 5 feet. She was already getting pulled back and so I dove in where — she was movin’ back. That’s where I dove in and I grabbed her.”
Within a matter of seconds, he found himself staring eye-to-eye with a massive shark.
“I pulled her up. You could see the shark come up right with her. And then I just immediately just start beating it with everything I could,” he said. “He was just staring at my sideways, just the biggest, blackest eye piercing. It was just no negotiating with it.”
Today, the family says they’re still working to get used to “the new normal,” but Paige Winter says she doesn’t feel any anger toward the shark who attacked her.
“This situation has urged me to learn more about sharks. Because even in the back of that ambulance and in the back of that truck, I was like, ‘Guys, sharks are still good people. Like, don’t get mad at the shark. The shark is fine,” she recalled with a smile. “I was just trying to assure them that me and that shark are good, like, we’re good.”
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