Celebrating Pride With Sharks

As Pride month comes to a close and another birthday celebrated I give thanks for my family. I am a proud Mom of a transgender son who in middle school had the courage to tell me “I’m a boy Mom, I need to go on testosterone to become the best version of myself I can be!“ Since that time both Sam, now Lucas, and I have experienced a dramatic transition together. It took several years and challenges during his transition, including switching teams from girl’s field hockey to the boy’s team in high school. I can only imagine the struggles Lucas experienced to come to this decision, and still faces today among intolerant people in the world. Watching his transition experience was a transformative experience for me also.

I survived a great white shark attack 5 years ago on Memorial Day 2016.

On May 29, 2016, a great white shark bit me while swimming alone at Corona del Mar, CA while training for my goal to compete in the Hawai’i Ironman. Training for such an event is hard enough, the sudden transition in my life has been even more traumatizing long after my physical wounds have healed.

Maria and Lucas Korcmaros with David McGuire

Getting back into the ocean was a great struggle for me and Lucas was a source of strength. Together we got certified to Scuba dive, and my youngest son has been a major supporter for me as I overcame my injuries, my fear and even PTSD. In a way, we came out together, have risen again, both heading in a new direction with a new life ahead. Not long after the attack we met David McGuire, the director of Shark Stewards, a non-profit organization dedicated to saving sharks from overfishing and the shark fin trade, and protecting the oceans where they live. David dove with us and we volunteered in Nevada where Shark Stewards was lobbying for a wildlife protection bill that included a ban on shark fin and manta ray gills they help introduce. It passed!

Lucas is thriving and is now in a long term relationship. Our mutual love of animals also extends to a fascination with sharks.  We look forward to July with Shark Week and  Sharkfest. Now, we look forward to Shark Week & Shark Fest every July and watch together. As a survivor who has been between the jaws of a great white shark, I watch these shows with some reservations about how sharks are portrayed as demons and maneaters. I think much of these shows feature shark attacks in an unrealistic light. Yes, sharks can be fierce, but the shark attack redos and the way the sharks are portrayed as vicious and dangerous seems wrong. I don’t blame the shark that bit me. I think it made a mistake, sensing me swimming alone in a black wetsuit in poor visibility, I must have looked like a lame seal. These apex predators are just filling their ecological role, eating the sick or weak, and have survived for hundreds of millions of years. Today, sharks swim in an ocean that is more dangerous for them than it is for us. Humans are killing around 100 million sharks a year to supply the senseless shark fin trade. We kill them accidentally as bycatch, we kill them for sport, sometimes we kill sharks as a vendetta for biting a person. Our choices, like consuming the luxury dish shark fin soup or consuming blue fin tuna sushi are driving big fish to extinction. We are putting our ocean ecosystems in jeopardy every day by the choices we make eating large fish like sharks and tuna, and from our single use plastics & excessive waste.  

As a survivor of a shark attack,suffering severe injuries that took 161 staples, an emergency operation and years of physical therapy, I have an excuse to hate that shark. But I don’t. In recovery I have become a shark advocate and aligned myself with Shark Stewards in their mission to eradicate the shark fin trade, to establish marine protected areas, and to educate & raise awareness for our role in protecting healthy ocean ecosystems for our own health & wellness. As a health and fitness professional I even started a Run for Sharks encouraging youth to get fit, go outdoors and learn about the ocean. In a way sharks experience bias, intolerance and even unjustified hatred. When you watch these amazing sharks on National Geographic and Discovery Channel this month, I hope you share my awe and remember, when we are in the ocean, we are the visitors in their home. Lets respect sharks, the ocean, and each other.

Yours in Health, Maria Korcsmaros 

Editor’s Note. Maria Korcmaros is the Southern California Chair leading community education efforts like beach cleanups and the annual Run for Sharks and health fair. She is an inspiration and irrepressible force, currently racing her way to Hawaii Ironman.