Shark attack survivor Paige Winter is calm as she explains exactly what happened as she was facing death.
“I didn’t see my life flash before my eyes, but I did see my future,” the 19-year-old North Carolina teen says in a new National Geographic special about her harrowing encounter on June 2, 2019, at Fort Macon Beach, N.C. (See Yahoo Entertainment’s exclusive clip above.)
In Shark Attack Investigation: The Paige Winter Story, Winter and her friends and family recall the day, while experts look at the factors that contributed to the attack that caused her to lose a leg and two fingers. For instance, they analyzed whether the shark had been attracted to Winter’s colorful hair or her extensive jewelry.
“I had been wondering for a while,” Winter tells Yahoo Entertainment, “and they confirmed a lot of stuff that I already thought had happened, but they also kind of told me, you know, some of the stuff that I thought had contributed to it weren’t contributions at all.”
She was never really into watching shark-themed programming on TV — it was too gory for her — but she wants people to know that she doesn’t hold any grudges against the predators. Winter says she’s always been an environmental advocate who adores all creatures — especially her cat, Sushi — and that hasn’t changed.
“I just figured since so many people don’t like sharks, because they’ve heard of shark attacks, I figured they’d listen to someone who’s actually lived it to tell them to chill out,” Winter says of why she wanted to share her story this way. “Because it’s fine.”
Not that it’s been easy. Winter spent much of her senior year of high school in rehab, which meant her math grades suffered. And just figuring out how to deal.
“Honestly, like, a lot of people think that losing a leg is the worst to happen, but I guarantee you a hand injury is so much worse,” she says. “I had to relearn to put up my hair and brush my teeth and button my pants. It was just a bunch of little stuff, and it annoyed me so much. And I still can’t feel in my left hand. I remember I ripped off my actual fingernail, because I had a fake nail on it, and I just didn’t notice until I looked at it.”
Now she uses a shorter, acrylic nail on that finger. Winter’s nails are pretty important to her; she’s planning to be a professional manicurist. That was one of her dreams before the attack, and now she’s making it happen.
“When I got hurt, I was like, that’s out of the picture,” Winter says. “But then I went, and I signed up for cosmetology classes, and now I’m taking them and I’m really good at it. It’s really great!”
She doesn’t have much longer in school.
“I just finished my first semester, so I have a year left,” she says. “And then I will take the test, and I’ll be a licensed cosmetologist.”
Something else that hasn’t changed is her boyfriend. Winter says she thought about during the attack. They had started dating about a month before it happened. She was worried about how he would react.
“So when I woke up from my surgery, you know, like freshly no leg, no nothing,” Winter says, “I called him and said, ‘Do you still like me?’ He was like, ‘Yes.'”
She adds, “He’s a cool fella.”
Shark Attack Investigation: The Paige Winter Story premieres Monday, July 12 at 10 p.m. ET/9 p.m. CT on National Geographic as part of SharkFest 2021.
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