FOLSOM, CA - A Folsom woman came face to face with a 12-foot tiger shark in Maui over the weekend and managed to get away without seriously being hurt.
Mariko Haugen is now home, but is still stunned by her unbelievable escape.
Haugen and her husband were swimming off Maui in the Makena Landing Beach Park area, near Kihei. They were enjoying a beautiful "idyllic day" swimming with the turtles. When they headed back to shore and were about 25 feet away, Haugen encountered the shark; but she didn't realize it at first.
"I would hear all this noise. You don't hear that-- people yelling," Haugen explained. "All of a sudden, it was like Hollywood. You see the big jaws coming at you. I can't say how terrifying that is."
Haugen is thankful for her martial arts training, which she credits for her quick thinking.
"My Tae Kwan Do prepared me to learn how to punch," Haugen said. "I punched it twice. I punched it this way, and that one contacted. But this [punch] kind of hit the side and slid into the mouth."
Haugen then continued back to shore. When she looked back, Haugen saw her husband had put himself between her and the shark.
Fortunately, the shark took off and Haugen was able to swim to a landing where several people comforted her and got her help.
Haugen's right hand and thigh are bandaged. She escaped the worst of it. She wasn't bitten, but she does have about 60 to 70 stitches.
"I think we were unlucky, and really lucky," Haugen's husband Don Haugen said.
Don Haugen is still trying to put it all into perspective, especially since he and his wife love the water.
"I've always reassured my family. We spend tons of time in the ocean. We love the ocean. I've always told my kids there's zero reasons to fear sharks because what is scary is breast cancer. Breast cancer is scary. That is one in 8," Don Haugen said. "Getting bitten by a shark is one in 4 million to visitors to Hawaii, so we should not have to worry at all."
"Except when you turn around and see that there is a shark biting your wife and then all of a sudden, odds are 100 percent."
Haugen is very grateful for the people who came to her aid. In addition to her husband, she said two women from Victoria, British Columbia helped comfort her. Haugen's husband and another man helped carry her to land, then the two women stayed with them until an ambulance arrived.
Tuesday night, Haugen spoke with one of the women, Janice Speller, by phone for the first time. She thanked Speller and her friend Jane Gair for being there.
"I was so terrified. You were the only thing I could concentrate on that could make me feel any comfort," said Haugen to Speller.
"I'm glad I could help," replied Speller.
Now, Haugen is home with plenty of "get well" messages from friends and loved ones. They include hand drawn posters from members of the Girls on the Run group that Haugen coaches.
Haugen and her husband are just glad to be home and just trying to catch up on some much-needed rest.
By Suzanne Phan, email@example.com