Illini West freshman Ashlyn Gilpin was hoping to make memories to last a lifetime last month when she went on a band trip to Florida with her classmates.
What happened on May 29 at Cocoa Beach will not be a memory she or her classmates will soon forget.
Gilpin decided against her better judgement on joining friends out in the Atlantic Ocean. Thirty minutes later a memory was created, but not the type she had originally hoped for.
Jumping waves in waist deep water, Gilpin was attacked by a shark.
“I felt a sharp pain like a dagger in my foot,” she recalled. “I looked down and my jaw just dropped. It shook me once and half of another time then released. It’s snout brushed up against my shin when it went away.”
Gilpin knew what happened but didn’t want to alarm her friends. As calm as she could she told her friends she had just been bit by something and they needed to get out of the water.
“The water was pretty murky and there were seaweeds everywhere,” she said. “I was pretty sure that it was a shark, but wasn’t 100 percent sure so I didn’t want to say it was and then it not be.”
As her friends Austin Logan, Hannah Duffy, Kendra Todd and Peyton Smith helped her to shore, the shock started to settle in more.
“When I laid down on the sand I took one look at my foot and I immediately started bawling,” Gilpin said. “It looked like my toes were barely still attached.”
A chaperone for the group ran for help. Gilpin was rushed to Cape Canaveral Hospital.
The attacked happened around 3:30 in the afternoon and by 8 p.m. Gilpin was in surgery. The surgery lasted an hour and 10 minutes.
“The doctors said they lost count of how many stitches (my foot required) after about 50,” she said.
When all was said and done, Gilpin’s left foot required more than 70 stitches. She suffered deep lacerations and a tendon from her pinky toe was removed, but she knows it could have been much worse.
In fact, Gilpin credits the TV show Shark Week as the main reason why it was not worse.
“I watch the show every year,” she said. “They say sharks jaws are like steel and once they bite you they will not release until they are ready so it’s best not to try and fight it. The doctors said they were surprised I remembered as much from the show as I did.”
Prior to the accident, Gilpin had never suffered any kind of serious injury, had any surgeries or broken any bones.
“I have never had to go through any bad experiences before,” she said. “So for something unusual like this to happen it’s really scary.
She mentioned she is both lucky and thankful it was not worse. Gilpin also admits her having an interest in sharks was a blessing as was the fact shock was the first emotion which set in.
“If I had not been in shock I would have been freaking out about it,” she said. “It still hasn’t all set in yet, but I just know I am very lucky and know what could have happened out there.”
Gilpin was released to go home after staying in the hospital for two nights. The first night in the hotel, chaperone Tammy Kaminski and band/music teacher Linda Hartweg stayed with the freshman. Gilpin’s mother arrived the next day at noon.
While in the hospital Gilpin learned she was the fourth victim of shark attacks on the beach in the same week.
“No one at the beach or the resort talked about it (the first three attacks),” Gilpin said. “Miss Hartweg said if she would have known about the other attacks she would have thought twice about letting us in the ocean.”
Now that a few weeks have passed she is comfortable joking around with her friends.
“It’s not everyday someone from Illinois can say they were attacked by a shark,” she said laughing. “The doctors said there may not be any scars on my foot after awhile, but after all that I have been through those scars better stay there!”
As for if she will make a return trip to the ocean, she said it is not in her immediate plans.
“I wouldn’t go again this summer, that is just too soon,” Gilpin said. “Maybe next summer but I do not think I will be going out in that deep of water.”
Her friends have also came up with some funny nicknames for her.
“They all know how independent I am and how I like to do everything myself, so now they are calling me the independent cripple and shark bait,” she joked.