Largo resident Erik Norrie's trip to the Bahamas in October wasn't exactly a vacation. It was a mission.
Norrie, 41, looked out at the waters of Abaco Islands, where a shark had taken a bite out of his left calf in August. Now he planned to catch that same shark and release it as a symbol of his forgiveness.
Norrie, who has been fishing his entire life, wasn't afraid — he had gone back on the water as soon as doctors would let him.
But when he returned to the place where he was attacked, the memories came rushing back.
"It was pretty emotional," Norrie said. "As I went up on the island and knelt down, I started praying. I really just felt like at the time, God was saying to me, 'You don't have to catch that shark.' "
The veteran spearfisher took that moment as a sign. He trudged back through the water to the boat to tell a group of his buddies — his friend, father-in-law and pastor — that the adventure they had planned wasn't going to happen.
Norrie first recounted the attack to the Tampa Bay Times while hospitalized in August. He was in the water holding a grouper to take home for dinner when he felt intense pressure on his leg. He watched the water turn red. He saw part of his leg in the shark's jaws.
He fashioned a tourniquet out of a rubber band from his spear gun while his family called for help.
Two weeks ago in an interview at his workplace, Norrie kicked up his leg to show off his mostly healed wound. Smiling, he reached for a set of authentic shark jaws, a gift from a friend. Norrie ran his fingers over the teeth. When he overlaid the jaws on top of his calf, the mouth lined up almost perfectly with the rough, dark circle of scar tissue and bite marks on his leg.
Norrie didn't get a good enough look at the shark that attacked him to identify it. An expert who examined the wound concluded it was likely a sandbar shark, common in warm, shallow waters around the world.
Reminders of Norrie's encounter with the shark are everywhere, even at his job, where he's the CEO of Sea Hawk Paints, a boat paint manufacturer. In his office, he displays the shark jaws. He pointed to a blue tie-dyed T-shirt with bright cartoon sharks stretched over his desk chair. A plastic shark rested on his window sill. Norrie laughed at the punch line of a cheesy joke about a half-eaten Australian shark attack victim, the only shark joke he knows. Occasionally, someone calls him "shark bite man," in jest.
It's not all fun, to be sure. Routine activities like walking required serious effort and adjustments after Norrie's skin grafts and hospital stay. The first time he tried to take a step, he couldn't. He relearned the motion with a different gait. But he doesn't like to dwell on the challenges he has faced in recent months. Instead, Norrie has leaned on his family, his friends and his faith.
Norrie is writing a book. He said he hopes to relate his attack to themes of conquering adversity through devotion to Christianity. "We all have sharks in our lives that we need to forgive," he said.
Julie Kliegman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 445-4155.