Marathoner attacked by bear: ‘I rolled into a ball and played dead’

LOS ALAMOS, N.M. (MEDIA GENERAL/KRQE) – Karen Williams is sharing her story after being attacked by a bear during a New Mexico marathon. She says she survived by playing dead. Authorities say the bear involved is now dead and is being tested for rabies.

Williams said she was at 23.5 miles and coming up a little hill when she saw a bear charging her. Authorities later said she had startled the bear’s cub and angered the momma bear in the process. Williams said at the moment she saw the bear, she raised her arms and yelled, “No!”

When she yelled, she said she saw the bear’s cub. And then, she was on the ground being “raked with claws and bitten.”

She says she cried out in pain and the mother bear hit her again, bit her neck and started to shake her.

Williams said that’s when, “I rolled into a ball and played dead.”

As she lay on the ground, Williams saw the bear go to her cub. The cub was trying to get down a tree it had run up. The bear kept looking back and checking to see if Williams was really “dead.”

“I was at that point, afraid I might die,” wrote Williams on Facebook.

Williams said she waited for 10 minutes until she couldn’t hear the bear or its cub anymore. Williams tried to sit up, but was nauseous and her arms didn’t work right.

She said the first person to come across her arrived about a half hour after the attack. She had blood in her eyes so she couldn’t see much, but she did recognize her fellow runner’s calm voice. Her friends went for help, got her husband to her and took care of her dogs and garden while she was in the hospital.

Williams has a fracture in her face from the bear hitting her, missing parts of her eyelid and eyebrow, an injury to her belly and a lot of punctures and cuts.

“But, I am alive,” Williams wrote. She also thanked her running community. “There are dozens of other people that helped me and I appreciate them all. THANK YOU,” Williams wrote.

Authorities say the bear was part of a study and had a GPS collar. They say they’re now working on finding her three cubs to turn them over to the care of the New Mexico Wildlife Center.

Here are some ways to protect yourself If you encounter a bear:

  • Stop, and back away slowly while facing the bear. Avoid direct eye contact, as the bear may consider that a threat. Do not run. Make yourself appear large by holding out your jacket. If you have small children, pick them up so they don’t run.
  • Give the bear plenty of room to escape, so it doesn’t feel threatened or trapped. If a black bear attacks you, fight back using anything at your disposal, such as rocks, sticks, binoculars or even your bare hands. Aim for the bear’s nose and eyes.
  • If the bear has not seen you, stay calm and slowly move away, making noise so the bear knows you are there. Never get between a mother bear and her cubs.

If you live or camp in bear country:

  • Keep garbage in airtight containers inside your garage or storage area. Place garbage outside in the morning just before pickup, not the night before. Occasionally clean cans with ammonia or bleach.
  • Remove bird feeders. Bears see them as sweet treats, and often they will look for other food sources nearby.
  • Never put meat or sweet-smelling food scraps such as melon in your compost pile.
  • Don’t leave pet food or food dishes outdoors at night.
  • Clean and store outdoor grills after use. Bears can smell sweet barbecue sauce and grease for miles.
  • Never intentionally feed bears to attract them for viewing.
  • Keep your camp clean, and store food and garbage properly at all times. Use bear-proof containers when available. If not, suspend food, toiletries, coolers and garbage from a tree at least 10 feet off the ground and 4 feet out from the tree trunk.
  • Keep your tent and sleeping bag free of all food smells. Store the clothes you wore while cooking or eating with your food.
  • Sleep a good distance from your cooking area or food storage site.

KRQE.com contributed to this story.

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