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Fighting gator has new meaning for attack survivor

TAMPA — Alligators have nudged and nipped Ike Monreal many times in the past 14 years.

As a golf ball diver, you get used to it.

But in the murky waters of Hole 13 at the Tampa Palms Golf and Country Club, the 62-year-old professional met an altogether different reptile — one determined to kill him.

"For seven minutes, I thought I was history," Monreal said.

The struggle began with a surprise attack from behind Saturday afternoon. The gator's jaws clamped down on an arm, its teeth piercing the three layers of wet suit and clothing Monreal wears to keep warm.

Then came the death roll — a gator's trademark rapid spin to disorient and drown its prey.

Monreal of Port St. Lucie fought back. He jabbed his thumb into the alligator's eye.

"When he rolled again, I just rolled with him," he said. "I knew I had to become offensive — or I was going to lose my life."

For reasons known only to the gator, it let go. Monreal shouted for help. Nearby golfers rushed to his aid.

He was taken to St. Joseph's Hospital in Tampa, where he was treated for a dislocated left shoulder and broken upper arm.

On Saturday night, officials said they had trapped the 7- to 8-foot alligator that attacked Monreal.

Not so fast, Monreal said Sunday.

"They got the wrong one. Absolutely," he said. "This one was much bigger and extremely aggressive. And now he's got a bad eye socket."

State-licensed trapper Julie Harter captured a gator at the country club at 8 p.m. Saturday, less than four hours after the attack.

The trapper thinks she caught the right alligator because it took the bait immediately, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission spokesman Gary Morse said. But the golf course manager has her number, in case another suspicious alligator appears.

The gator will be destroyed, its hide and meat sold. Proceeds will help fund the commission's Nuisance Alligator Program.

Attacks involving golf-ball diving are not uncommon, Morse said. The scenario is even mentioned in the commission's nuisance alligator fact sheet. When a swimmer accidentally bumps into a gator, the reptile may bite in defense.

"It's something you might expect to happen with a job like retrieving golf balls from a pond in alligator country," Morse said. "It's a hazardous vocation."

But, at about 8 cents per ball, Monreal said the job pays very well — enough to support himself, his wife and three sons.

He started out as a bartender and scuba instructor, he said, but money prompted a switch to full-time golf ball diving. His company, Ike & Sons, does business across the state.

Being out of work for up to six weeks while he recovers will be tough, he said.

As soon as he can, Monreal said, he plans to return to work. But this time, like Tarzan of Hollywood fame, he will carry a knife.

"It's great money," he said, "but it comes with serious risks."

Catherine E. Shoichet can be reached at cshoichet@sptimes.com or (813) 661-2454.

Fighting gator has new meaning for attack survivor 04/27/08 [Last modified: Thursday, May 1, 2008 11:07am]
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