Debbie Shoemaker took a few timid steps onto the beach Friday morning. When she reached the water, she put down a makeshift memorial of flowers for two things — Mother's Day and the pelican that set off a run of bad luck.
Exactly one year before, on May 8, 2008, a fun day of swimming at the same beach had a horrific ending. While wading deep in the water Shoemaker saw something coming toward her out of the corner of her eye.
Then she felt a punch in the face, not from a fist but from a pelican swooping over the water, probably trolling for fish.
The bird died on impact. Shoemaker, 51, got 25 stitches and an unhappy ending to her annual vacation.
Arthur Czyszczon, the manager at her motel, the Page Terrace, thought something horrible had happened when the ambulances pulled up.
"I thought it had been a mugging or something caused by a human,'' said Czyszczon, who decided not to charge her for the week's stay. "I'd never think a pelican could do something like that."
But pelicans, which have an average weight of 7 pounds, have huge beaks, and they can fly at up to speeds of 20 mph, according to Sea World's Web site. They spend much of their time cruising off shore and scooping up large fish.
Shoemaker had come to Treasure Island — where her family has vacationed since she was 10 — so she wouldn't be home in Toledo, Ohio, for Mother's Day. It had been a year since her mother's death and she was feeling emotional. She flew to Florida by herself for a week of solace.
Ever since that day last May, things have gone wrong.
Shoemaker has had countless trips to doctors and bills from the pelican incident. She has had two MRSA infections — apparently not related to the pelican encounter — that put her in the hospital. A cruise she and her husband planned to help them forget all the stress ended badly. The boat wasn't able to make the planned island stops they paid for because of rough seas and traveling conflicts.
So Friday, armed with a necklace with a pelican charm given to her by a friend and a custom-made T-shirt saying "I survived a pelican attack," she frolicked along the beach to ward off all the bad karma of the past year.
"I won't go out deep in the water anymore," Shoemaker said. "I was really hesitant at first, but I made up my mind in February I'd get back out here."
Shoemaker says she is optimistic about the future. She has already booked her vacation at the same spot next year.